art, Flags, history, London, Nations, Olympics, World


I love the Olympics! I always have and always will, at least unless they replace the events with “competitive praying” or “hotdog eating” or some shit like that. My personal favorite events are gymnastics, men and women, the sprinting races, archery, volleyball and the track and field events like javelin and hammer throw. But I really just enjoy watching all of it: the pageantry, the goodwill, the internationalism…but especially the flags. The flags!

I am something of an amateur vexillologist (one who studies flags and banners, and their uses) and have been one since I tried to memorize all the capitals of the world back when I was a pre-teen. Yeah, I was that kind of kid: while my peers were playing with pokemon and playstation 2 and obsessing over boy bands I was looking up flags in books and copying them out on pieces of paper with crayons, markers, and strips of colored paper. My personal favorites were and are the most colorful of them, the most creative uses of shape and pattern and color. If the flag is able to capture my attention, then chances are it will soon become one of my favorites. I remember that the flag of the pacific island nation of Palau was always one of my favorites:

Said to represent the moon over the Pacific ocean, I always though that the colors were amazingly complimentary and that the look of the flag was rather expressionist verging on abstraction. And I love that.

Other flags are beautiful for their complexity rather than their simplicity. I often find myself drawn to flags with striking imagery or patterns. In the case of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan their flag could also pass as a wonderful and quite brilliant example of medieval heraldry:

The flag itself uses an amazingly simple yet effective contrast of colors, set at diagonal angles to each other. But if that were not already enough, the amazing dragon really puts this flag into the category of vexillogical masterpiece.

Not every flag is so obviously masterful though. Some seem basic or normal upon first viewing, but become more special and interesting as time goes on. For example:

This, of course, is the flag of the modern nation of Greece. It follows a rather familiar pattern, at least to Americans, but it somehow manages to transcend its simplicity and seeming derivative sensibility to become a real classic. The combination of two common flag tropes (cross pattern and alternating colored stripes) adds a playfulness that brings a childlike, but not childish, feel to the entire composition. Match that with the use of two beautiful and simple colors and this flag transcends national banner status to become a classic of design. But not all flags are so lucky, or so memorable. Look at this flag for example:

Unless you are incredibly familiar with national flags in general I bet you would never be able to guess that this flag belongs to the great and diverse nation of Russia. Russia is essentially an imperial state made up of many different nations and ethnic groups all gathered together. This boring tricolor (the most common type of national flag out there) is perhaps a side effect of a nation that does not really have a cohesive identity or national story anymore. In the past there were Romanov eagles and bold hammers and sickles. Now there is just his white, blue, and red bore. It is almost as if Russia just no longer has the creative energy to come up with a better, or at least more memorable, national insignia. Contrast this blah banner with the flag of one of Russia’s many regions:

Now THIS is a flag. The flag of of the Chuvashia Republic, a region within the Russian Federation. With a population of less than 2 million it is not a large region, but that does not mean it cannot come up with a kick-ass flag design. The colors work together brilliantly, there are only two of them so it is not over busy, and the linear patterns combined with the gorgeous twirls and stars really make this flag a classic of design. A nation of any size would be proud to have such a beautiful emblem.

There are hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of flags in the world and not all of them are as interesting or as memorable as the Chuvash or Greek flag, but they all have a little something that makes them at least worthy of investigation. And some are down right works of art. I’ll leave you with a flag that straddles the line between gaudy and brilliant, a flag that defies categorization. Ladies and gentlemen, the flag of the African Island nation of Seychelles:

Now it’s time for YOU to tell me what you think of this flag. Please be frank…let’s all become vexillogists together!

2nd Amendment, Aurora Colorado, Aurora Shooting, Civil rights, extremism, Freedom, Guns, Liberty, News, opinion, Philosophy, Politics, Violence

American Disease: Guns and Fear

Our national obsession with violence and complete liberty has claimed and disfigured 60 more lives this weekend in Aurora, Colorado. An angry and maliciously focused young man has once more found in legal and readily available firearms the best way to express his rage and frustration, just like Cho, Loughner, Klebold, Harris, Kazmierczak and countless hundreds before and after them. As a recent book on gun rights made clear, the Second Amendment is not, and never was meant to be, a national “suicide pact”: a license to horde and use unimaginably violent weapons and ammunition whenever one feels threatened. Gun violence is a disease that corrupts and rots as it kills and maims. The American body politic is infected with this horrible affliction, and our culture is already gangrenous and fetid to its core when it comes to issues of violence and weapons. We are a gun obsessed culture. We are a nation of people who see themselves as John Wayne and as the rest of the world as some squint-eyed desperado waiting to make us into a victim.

We look only to the most extreme “cures” to our society’s problems: crime is high? Do not address poverty and injustice, but do get a gun and protect yourself and property. Feel threatened and afraid? Do not seek therapeutic, medical, or community help, but do get a gun so that you feel like a powerful person again. Want to prevent gun violence in society? Arm more people so that one angry man with a gun can be stopped by another. This is madness. This is despicable. This is a disease. Some, including (amazingly) the Governor of Colorado want us to believe that banning or restricting some or all types of guns and ammunition will do little or nothing to stop violence. They say that “we cannot ban all violence so why bother”. But isn’t this like saying “we can’t stop all cases of the flu, so why create vaccines?” It is a cowardly red herring that should be called what it is. Organizations like the NRA and the Republican party (and many cowardly Democrats as well) stoke our national obsession with guns and redemptive American violence. We are told that it is our right to own any and every kind of violent tool. If we are denied that right then we are told this is a fate worse than death.  Say this to the 6 year old shot on the South Side of Chicago. Say this to Trayvon Martin, or to Robert Kennedy. No other right leads to the death of 10000 people a year. No other right assumes that with great power comes no responsibility.

The fact remains that we view liberty as an excuse for our immaturity and our childish desires for power and complete security. The men who wrote the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution were men who grew up around fire arms that took some skill to handle, and that had an immediate and real potential to save and preserve life: hunting, fighting the British, holding ones’ own in a society that did not yet have a police force or an army. Today we take the right they enumerated as a free pass to create 300 million one man armies. We have grown so paranoid with fear that we think that we must arm ourselves against our own government, while it is actually we the people who kill, maim, and terrorize each other with guns each and every day. Thomas Jefferson did say that the tree of liberty must, on occasion, be watered with the blood of tyrants. But he was not foolish enough to think that tyranny was always eminent whenever one felt threatened, or that this blood meant to feed that tree of liberty must be spilt but 6000 rounds of high powered ammunition. We are not watering the tree of liberty: we are drenching it in the blood of our fellow citizens for no other reason than we are afraid.

But why are we afraid? Could it be that we are afraid of ourselves? What is more terrifying then a nervous, frustrated and driven person with a deadly weapon? And that is precisely what thousands and thousands if not millions of our fellow citizens have become. We are an unorganized and bloodthirsty private army searching desperately for an enemy. And when they inevitably cannot find that enemy worth the trouble they have put into arming themselves, they will turn on themselves, and upon a society and a government that has not supplied them with an alternative to the redemptive violence that they imagine is their only hope against…something? Someone? Whom? We live in a society that has given up on itself. If we cannot make our society perfect, then why bother? If we cannot make ourselves totally unafraid, then why not live in a state of self-justifying and self-gratifying fear? The government is no longer allowed to help us because that would mean we are “socialist” or “rewarding failure”, business cannot be bothered because that may impact their liberty to make as much money as they want however they want to, and religion is just a sickening and cynical parody of human love and decency.

We are constantly looking for a reason to explode against the apathy we force feed ourselves. We dare not actually examine the roots of our national psychosis because that might mean admitting that we cannot have it all, and that we as Americans are not god’s perfect people. So we cling to our guns and we wait for that dark, scary other to burst through the door. We dare the world to “make our day” and give us an excuse, any excuse, to do something that makes us feel powerful and important and in control, if only for one terrible moment. We lie to ourselves and say that young men like Aurora shooter James Holmes are the exception to the rule: they are “madmen”, “disturbed”, “anomalies”. Anything but “quintessentially American” and “inevitable”. I will not hazard to guess why Holmes and so many other shooters did what they did because we cannot ever know something that emerges from an individual human psyche. But I will say this: we are so afraid of the Holmes of the world because when we see them staring down the sight of that gun we can all too easily see our own finger on the trigger.

2nd Amendment, Aurora Colorado, Aurora Shooting, Batman, Civil rights, Guns, Liberty, News, opinion, Philosophy, right wing

Senseless Display of American Violence: The Aurora Theater Shooting

My heart goes out to the victims and families of the Aurora Colorado theater shootings today. I went to a showing of “Batman” today, and I cannot imagine the terror those people must have felt in what was supposed to be a happy and enlightening evening of sharing culture and film art.

Violence is a disease that corrupts and rots as it kills and maims. The American body politic is infected with this horrible affliction, and our culture is already gangrenous and fetid to its core when it comes to issues of violence and weapons. We are a gun obsessed culture. We are a nation of people who see themselves as John Wayne and as the rest of the world as some squint-eyed desperado waiting to make us into a victim. Some will blame pop-culture for this. Others will blame lack of religion (whatever that has to do with a man shooting up a theater I will never understand) and still more will blame our violence soaked media. I personally blame our collective need to value small instances of liberty over human life and decency. A gun is more important than a human life in the United States today. More people have come to the defense of guns and those who support and worship them then have come to the defense of the families and victims of the Aurora Colorado shooting today. That to me is a sign that violence like this will continue until the death contract we signed into our own Bill of Rights is itself Amended and reevaluated. Access to any gun, anywhere, any time without any real restrictions is insane, and it is a sort of insanity our nation should no longer see fit to indulge.

Roger Ebert, fast becoming an essential part of our national conscience,  put it better than anyone else today on his blog


In an op-ed

art, Comedy, Madness, Stand Up

A Comedian (A Short Story)

“When I twist my nipples it makes me feel emotional, often sad. That’s why I wear nipple clamps when I go to church with my grandmother…That way she thinks I’m really weeping when they are talking about Christ being whipped.” Audience laughs sporadically and more than a few boo and hiss. The comedian is unfazed. “I know! That’s what I thought! Fucking thing! Funny thing is there are people today who would pay good money for what Jesus went through that day.” The Comedian falls to his knees, and throws his hands together in the air as though tied to a stake. He moans and gesticulates in way that makes him seem like he is enormously aroused. “Oooh, oh you dirty Roman…Whip me harder…Oh! Make me your savior…Make me your savior!” The Comedian throws his arms wide in a pantomime of the savior of mankind on the cross, and a soundtrack over the loudspeakers makes an exaggerated *boing!* sound, suggesting a humorously vigorous erection. “Oh, looks like Lazarus is rising from the dead! Being the son of God is better than having a tub-full of Viagra!”

One man in the back row of the club barks out laughing for a moment before the universal silence of the rest of the audience shames him into shutting up. The Comedian can not miss this opportunity to ridicule the audience. “What! You’re right…Don’t listen to that idiot. He’s my plant! Next I’m gonna have him come on stage and throw 30 pieces of silver at me hey-ooooooooo!” The Comedian executes a rather remarkable high kick that knocks his mike stand over and sends the deafening sound of reverb screeching through the sound system. A child who someone made the foolish decision of bringing to this show starts crying and a few of the audience members get up and leave the building. The Comedian seems unfazed. “You ever get that feeling late at night that something really bad is gonna happen to you and so you sit up in your bed weeping and masturbating uncontrollably? No? Am I really the only one? No one gonna laugh at that one? Ok…You ever had GOOD airplane food? No? Hey! Hey! Why you leaving? Wassuuuup?”

Even more people start to leave, and one heckler screams at the stage “Really? A “wassup” joke? Did I somehow get transported to 2002?” The Comedian smiles and laughs at the foolishness of this man who does not understand the understated genius of his humor. “It’s ironic. Jeez! Dontcha get it? Irony!”

The heckler becomes bold. “Now you are completely messing up what the concept of irony means. I would leave at this point, but it is just too much fun to watch you continue to fail.”

The Comedian chuckled good naturedly. “Uh-oh, we’ve got a critic in the crowd! Just promise not to tell your friends how much I suck! Hey-oooo!” The Comedian pantomimes a rim shot and laughs heartily at his clever little rejoinder. “Remember folks, no refunds! And there’s a two drink minimum here at “Knee Slappers”. Try out the Japanese-Teriyaki shrimp over at the buffet: It’s like an A-bomb went off on your taste buds!” Someone let’s out an audible gasp and the heckler in the front row looks genuinely stunned as he intones “Oh my god…” under his breath.

The Comedian laughed and laughed, and he went right on to his “A” material without skipping a beat. “Hey, speaking of cataclysmic tragedies, why did the Democrats loose the homophobe vote in ’88? Because they “Do cock kiss”! Get it! Dukakis! He was the nominee! Remember that helmet on that little head?”

Most of the audience leaves at this point leaving just a few people who either want to continue heckling the Comedian or who are comedic masochists. The Comedian, primed and ready to believe the best about any terrible situation, takes these departures as a sign that his jokes have culled out all but the most sophisticated and intelligent fans. He was proud and glad to act as a cynosure on their collective journey to seek out enlightenment through humor. “Who wants to hear a limerick I wrote? No one? Ok, I’ll read it anyway!” He takes a folded yellow piece of paper out of his left breast pocket and clears his throat. This is what he read:


“There once was a lady from Spain

Who liked to get drunk in the rain

She danced like a clown

All about the town

And her drink of choice was Champaign”


The crowd is stunned into silence by this inane and pathetic display of “talent”. They really do not know how to respond. They are rubber-necking at a stand-up performance: unable to stop looking but disgusted and horrified by what they see. The Comedian is struggling to ignore the discomfort he is bringing to the crowd, and the humiliation he is inflicting upon himself, and failing badly at both. Sweat stars to pour from his forehead onto his face, beat red from the emotional and creative exertion. He grabs ahold of the mike stand like a drunk grabs a hold of a streetlamp. He starts breathing heavily and his pulse quickens, his throat and mouth go dry and his chest gets tight with panic and anxiety. All the while his face is frozen in a grotesque and simpering grin which has the effect of making him look like a terrifying and vaguely aroused clown.

“Wow, tough crowd tonight. Guess you guys were expecting Gallagher or something. Guess you weren’t expecting someone who actually has pride in their material and in their profession. Hmm. I suppose you guys would probably respond better to some more avant garde type of performance eh?”

The heckler in the front row snorts. “Yeah, maybe we are just too snobbish for you…” Some of the others chuckle at this remark. The Comedian smiles and giggles along with them. “Maybe I can elevate the proceedings with a little something from my wide assortment of props?” He reaches into the inner pocket of his blazer and pulls out an enormous handgun. “This is the Smith and Wesson .500 revolver. It is rated to take down all big game animals in North America, and is capable of killing a black bear at full charge. It takes a semi-rimmed jacketed hollow point cartridge, and when fired has a muzzle velocity of 602 meters per second. It can go through a police issued Kevlar vest like a piece of tissue paper, and is guaranteed to take the head off of a full grown man at 50 yards. Firing one round out of this gun costs as much as buying $5 lottery ticket, but I like to think that the bullet gives me more bang for my buck. And it leaves a lot less to chance.”

The crowd is deathly silent, and no one dares move from his seat. Every pair of eyes in the club is focused firmly on the weapon of mass destruction in the hand of the man they paid $15.25 + drinks to laugh at for an hour. The Comedian reaches back into his blazer pocket and pulls out a handful of ridiculously large bullets. He calmly, almost mechanically, begins to load the chambers of the revolver one by one. “Yeah, I guess my prop isn’t that funny on its own. But you see, it is not what a prop is but what you do with it that makes it funny.” The Comedian falls into a crouch position at the edge of the stage and smiles at the man who has been heckling him all night. Then he hits him full force in the face with the side of the Smith and Wesson. Blood shoots out of his temple like water from a fire hydrant wrenched open on a hot summer day, and four teeth go flying out of his mouth. Two of those teeth land with a tinkling sound in the mojito of a nearby woman. She promptly fainted dead away, sharing the floor with the heckler who is now jerking around on the floor like a gutted fish.

The Comedian stands back up, and wipes his bloody knuckles and gun on the front of his faded blue jeans. He pulls back the hammer on the pistol and braces himself as if he were about to fire. Instead he screams “BANG!” and smiles dumbly at the audience as they all jump and some of them scream. “Guess I got a response out of that little gag! Aww…I can see how a-scared you guys are so I’ll tell you what: we are going to play a game. I am going to take all but one of the bullets out of this gun, and then I am going to tell you a joke at a time while playing Russian roulette! If I get through 5 jokes then I’ll take the gun and shoot the first motherfucking person who jeered at me in this place. Oh, believe me I know who it was, and I am not gonna let you know who that person is until/unless I put a bullet in their mother fucking brain. So, let’s get started! Oh, and if any of  you so much as fucking think about calling for help or running I will shoot that motherfucker in the back of the head. Understand? I said DO YOU FUCKING UNDERSTAND?!?”

The audience all scream out “yes” as loud as they can. They are terrified, and just want this all to be over with…but now they have the prospect of getting a bullet in their head if the Comedian survives his little game. No one is going to be a hero tonight at “Knee Slapper’s”. The Comedian grins. He feels great that he had finally gotten the audience right where he wanted them. They are in the palm of his hand! “Ok! Let’s get started! And remember, you have 5 on 6 chance of getting out of here without a scratch! Alright…We’ll start with a good knock-knock joke. Everyone loves those. They are FUCKING IDIOTPROOF!” He screams at the crowd, rage and joy pulses through him in equal proportions. He is on top of the world. He has never had a more rapt audience. Somewhere in the back a woman starts to weep quietly.

The Comedian takes his place at the mike and pushes his hair back over his scalp. He adjusts the mike and shifts his weight from one leg to another, affecting a jaunty and fun loving persona. “Knock knock?”

The audience knows without being told to respond with an emphatic “who’s there?” The Comedian, with a look of pure bliss and pride on his sweaty face, placed the barrel of his gun to his right temple and put his finger on the trigger. “Kook!”

“Kook who?”

The comedian can barely contain his glee. As he finishes the joke he begins to pull the trigger. “What are you, a cloc-“ BANG!

The gun goes off. The Audience screams. The Comedian falls to the ground dead. What is left of his face is frozen in the world’s most exuberantly macabre grin.

Brain, Mind, Ontology, Philosophy, poetry, Thought, Words

I Know (A Poem)

Do we know what we know from knowing?

Or do we know what we know we know?

Did we know what we knew when we knew it?

Or did we only know when we were told?

Can we only know what we know?

Did I know it when I knew not?

What was the first thing my mind started knowing?

And how did I know it for sure?

I know that we knew about knowing

But how did I know about that?

Can you know about knowing about knowing?

Or is that bit of knowing a bit too much?

Did I forget I knew about knowing?

Or can I know what I know for sure?

I know that I know something…

Oh damn it all!

I don’t know anymore…


4th of July, Alternate History, Democracy, Freedom, Great Britain, history, Independence Day, Liberty, Revolution

The Commonwealth of America

As yet another Independence Day rolls around I’d like to propose a thought experiment:

It’s April 19th, 1774 and Edmund Burke gives a speech denouncing the Crown’s treatment of the American colonies:

Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it…. Do not burthen them with taxes…. But if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question…. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face.

It’s April 19th, 1775 CE. The government of his Majesty King George III of the house of Hanover has decided to grant the Colonies representation in the Houses of Parliament. John Adams of Massachusetts (whose relation Samuel Adams has been imprisoned along with the leaders of the terrorist group “The Sons of Liberty”) along with Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania and James Madison of Virginia, with other representatives from the various colonies, are on a ship bound for England. A detatchment of British regulars led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith patrols near the towns of Lexington and Concord in Middlesex County Massachusetts Bay Colony looking for hidden “patriot” insurrectionist weapons and supply caches. The night before a group of rabble-rousers, including a silversmith named Paul Revere, were caught and imprisoned for attempting to promote rebellion against the British crown.

As the sun rises over Lexington a ragged group of colonists gather to meet the British Regulars. They carrying arms and military supplies. There is a stand-off. And then…The colonists drop their arms and supplies in a pile in front of the regulars, salute, and go about their business. They “patriots” have been betrayed, and the loyalists to the British crown have unilaterally decided to turn in the caches without a fight. The words of Edmund Burke ring true, and peace reigns throughout the American colonies.


But it gets even WEIRDER from there

In 1800 the Parliament votes on a bill introduced by newly elected delegate from Virginia Thomas Jefferson. The measure passes and the slave trade is abolished throughout the British Empire. The following year slavery itself is outlawed by another act of parliament, and all of the colonies, save for South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, comply. In response to this gross display of disunity and disloyalty, the British Army is dispatched to the southern colonies, backed by large numbers of colonial regulars from the North-East colonies. After a brief series of battles (in which the combined British and Colonial forces easily prevail against the rag-tag militia of slave owners and their paid mercenaries) the Imperial forces capture Charleston. Savannah falls a week later under threat of bombardment by the British Navy warships docked just offshore in the bay. British military governors are installed in the rebellious states and they implement the destruction of the slave economy of the southern states. It takes another years for the tensions to cool, but by 1820 the economy of the south has stabilized and the last remnants of the slave based aristocracy has been swept away forever.

Holy shi—

But wait, there’s MORE

It is 1812 and the American Colonial army led by Andrew Jackson invades French held Louisiana and takes the city of New Orleans. In Europe Napoleon hears of this disaster just as he is preparing to invade Russia. He is forced to rethink his plans, and instead sends half the force back to France and other half he sends to relieve Louisiana. The British Navy surprise the French flotilla at Trafalgar and hem in the ships as they dock to resupply before the trek across the Atlantic to America. Napoleon is overthrown by his officers and a republic is declared. This new government sues for peace with Great Britain. In exchange for peace, the French Navy and army are reduced in size, and the Americans take over administration of the Orleans territory along with the Mississippi territory. This area later becomes the colony of Orleans. The British cement their grip on the continent by signing an agreement with the Western Indian Tribes united Under the great native leader Tecumseh. The lands West of the Mississippi and 3oo miles south of the Canadian territory are given over to Indian Administration under the protection of the Crown. Spain and her colonies are left to deal with the “Indian Problem”.

Need a moment to take this all in…

UH UH! We ain’t done yet! 

It is 1860 and the American colonies are officially granted status as an autonomous but loyal Commonwealth of the British Empire. The CWA (Commonwealth of America) grants voting rights to poor whites, women, and blacks aged 21 and older. America elects its first Prime Minister and its first Independent Parliament. Queen Victoria is proclaimed  head of State and the official anthem of the new Democratic Republic is “God Save the Queen”. War rages to the West between the faltering Spanish Empire and the vibrant and growing “Confederation of Native Tribes”. Within the decade the Spanish are expelled from America and the independent republics of Mexico, Texas, California and the Confederation vote to join the Commonwealth of the British Empire as well. There is a major movement towards greater freedom and representation throughout the Empire, and the parliament of Great Britain votes to withdraw all troops from the Indian Subcontinent after a brief transition period of 5 years. The various nations of the subcontinent gain various forms of autonomy and independence, and all choose not to join the Commonwealth. The last Indian state, Kashmir, declares Independence in 1901, as Queen Victoria dies in her bed.

PLEASE! Need a deep breath

But one final thing! 

It is 2012. The past century has been a trying, but successful one. Germany, Imperial Japan and France were defeated by the British Empire and the Commonwealth of America in the “Great War”, and a general Pax Britannia reigns over most of the world. The Soviet Union rises in the east, but under the leadership of Premier Leon Trotsky it slowly but surely moves towards an enlightened Democratic Socialism. This political philosophy spreads across Europe and Asia, eventually reaching the shores of America. By 1970 the British Empire is dissolved in favor of a great Commonwealth of Independent Nations. Germany, France, and the Scandinavian nations eventually join, as does Italy, much of Africa and the territories of the former Ottoman Empire. Peace reigns across most of the world, and a pact of Mutual non-aggression is signed between the Commonwealth of Independent Nations, the nations of Hindustan and Persia, the Republic of China, The Empire of Japan, and the Soviet Union. This unified world of friends begins to push forward together to combat global climate change and deforestation, and in 2025 fossil fuels are banned as destructive to the world shared by all human beings.

THERE. All speculation of course, and not nearly a fully comprehensive, or entirely accurate, view of the world had the USA never gained independence, but a view nonetheless. It can be fun to think about what could have been, or what could still be. Happy Fourth of July.