Saturday, November 28, 2015

Muslims in the GOP

Is this the face of a conservative Muslim politician? Turns out, it is. Cemile Giousouf was elected to German's Bundestag (federal parliament) in 2013, the chamber's first Muslim representative of the conservative Christian Democratic Union party. As the Financial Times pointed out at the time, she is an example of a small but growing number of European Muslims who are abandoning the continent's secular left-wing parties because they feel more at home with Christian conservatives. In Britain, Sayeeda Warsi grew up in a Pakistani-British family and was appointed Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party in 2005. Two years later she was created Baroness Warsi and became the youngest member of the House of Lords.

Here in the US, the story is a bit different. It's not that there's a shortage of pro-life, pro-marriage, faith-infused, free trade, limited government, robust national security-minded Muslims out there. The Republican Muslim Coalition and its president, Saba Ahmed, for example, embody just such values. No, the problem is that the likes of Donald Trump and the populist wing of the party seem to be doing their best to alienate such potential voters, as the FT reports. In 2000, George W. Bush won 42% of the American Muslim vote, a hefty piece of a growing pie (and probably one of the Republicans' strongest showings among any minority group). By 2008, 89% of Muslims were voting Democrat.

Back home in Arizona, I frequently voted for Mormons, not because I share all their theological beliefs, but because I found that I shared political and social values with many Mormon candidates. I'd be happy to vote alongside Muslims and for Muslim candidates as well, if only the GOP doesn't drive them all away.

Photo credit: Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

Monday, November 9, 2015

An Excellent Flag: Crozet, Virginia

I have been known to complain about bad civic heraldry. But today I would like to praise a worthy example.

Crozet, VA is a small unincorporated town of around 6,000 people a few miles west of Charlottesville. It is named for Claudius Crozet, a French engineer who, among other things, served as the first president of the Virginia Military Institute. As the Crozet Gazette explains:
In 1996, looking for symbol for the Crozet community, the Crozet Community Association investigated the family heraldry of the town namesake. Three emblems for the name were discovered in old French heraldry books at the University of Virginia Library, but all were depicted in black and white. For one, the least complex coat-of-arms, there was a description of the emblem’s colors and therefore it was officially adopted by the CCA and stickers and a handful of flags were made. The colors are happily compatible with the American flag. The emblem dates from the 1300s.
This flag has all the attributes of a good flag or coat of arms: it is simple, clear, distinctive, historically grounded, and aesthetically pleasing. Thus, it comes as little surprise that, although Crozet is a small community, its flag is a fairly common sight in the back window of vehicles in the area. I can only hope that more communities follow Crozet's example of using well-designed heraldic symbols to foster civic pride.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

English, But Not As You Know It

A couple months ago I read an article on cognitive fitness which encouraged various activities to keep the mind strong and limber: music, exercise, games, acting, and foreign languages, among others.

If you're anything like me, you may lack the time and ability to study a foreign language. But I strongly suspect that many of the same cognitive benefits can come about by working with a different dialect of English. The other day I stumbled upon one: Yola, otherwise known as the Forth and Bargy dialect.

This variant of English was spoken in County Wexford, Ireland. Although it died out in the 19th century, it evolved from Middle English and looks more like the English of Geoffrey Chaucer than modern American English. Those who are interested in the finer workings of pronunciation can find plenty of information online. But for those who simply want to try their hand at reading it, I'd offer the same advice I offer for Chaucer: read it out loud and then just listen to yourself. You might sound like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, but you may find yourself hearing words that you didn't recognize on the page.

Here's a simple example of Yola, with a modern English translation, that I pulled off Wikipedia:

Ee mýdhe ov Rosslaarè
'Cham góeen to tell thee óa taale at is drúe
Aar is ing Rosslaarè óa mýdhe geoudè an drúe
Shoo wearth ing her haté óa ribbonè at is blúe
An shoo goeth to ee faaythè earchee deie too
Ich meezil bee ing ee faaythè éarchee deie zoo
At ich zee dhicka mýdhe fhó is geoudè an drúe
An ich bee to ishólthè ee mýdhe, ee mýdhe at is drúe
An fhó coome to ee faaythè wi' ribbonè blue
'Chull meezil góe to Rosslaaré earche deie too
to zie thaar ee mydhe wee her ribbonè blúe
An 'chull her estólté vor her ribbonè blúe
ee mýdhe at is lyghtzóm, an well wytheen an drúe
Ich loove ee mýdhe wee ee ribbonè blúe
At coome to ee faaythè éarchee arichè too
Fan 'cham ing ee faaythè éarchee arichè too
To estóthè mýdhe wee ee ribbons blúe

The maiden of Rosslare
I'm going to tell you a tale that is true.
There is in Rosslare a maid good and true.
She wears in her hat a ribbon that is blue
and she goes to the faith every day too.
I myself am in the faith every day so
that I see this maid who is good and true
and I go to meet the maid, the maid that is true
and who comes to the faith with ribbons blue.
I myself will go to Rosslare every day too
to see there the maid with her ribbons blue
And I will meet her for her ribbons blue
the maid that is enlightened and good looking and true.
I love the maid with the ribbons blue
that comes to the faith every morning too
when I'm in the faith every morning too
to meet the maid with the ribbons blue.

If that was too easy, you can find a more challenging text here, along with some modern English.

Those interested in learning a bit more about Yola may enjoy this short video:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Alternatives to Flying the Confederate Battle Flag

I understand the sentiments behind flying the Confederate Battle Flag (or, at least some of them). People are fed up with excessive federal government and want to see the states empowered again. They're tired of a declining sense of heritage and local community. They're tired of being told by people they have never seen what they can and cannot do.

But in spite of this sympathy, I have grave doubts about the wisdom of flying the Confederate Battle Flag (more specifically the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia). This flag was carried by men engaged in rebellion against the United States - arguably the largest and bloodiest act of treason in American history - in defense of a would-be state that advocated slavery as a positive good and a "corner-stone" of its system.

Admittedly, for most people who fly the flag, it doesn't stand for those things. To them, it stands for home, heritage, freedom, and courage. Rather than getting sucked into the question of what the flag "actually represents," let us admit that different people view it differently. And it is doubtful whether it is prudent to elevate symbols which we know people will misconstrue.

Fortunately, there are a raft of alternative flags available to the historically-conscious individual who wishes to express the positive sentiments behind the Confederate Battle Flag while avoiding most of its negative connotations. The fact that many of these flags are today obscure may actually be a virtue, leading neighbors and passers-by to ask what the flag means, allowing the person flying it to explain.

Other Flags of the Confederacy

This is my least favorite option, since much of the negative connotation remains, but it merits mention. Why not fly one of the political flags of the Confederacy, particularly the First National Flag? This could be taken as a symbol of the hope (however naive or stillborn) that the Confederacy might peacefully secede and become its own nation. The battle flag is, in some sense, an admission that attempts at peaceful secession were a failure.

Current State Flags

Every state has a flag, and several - particularly North and South Carolina (pictured left) - are not unattractive. (There is, however, still the problem that the Mississippi state flag incorporates the Confederate Battle Flag.) There's no requirement that state flags be flown in conjunction with the US flag. Moreover, it is not a breach of flag protocol to fly a state flag on an adjacent pole at the same height as the US flag.

Past State Flags

There is a wealth of possibilities here. If you think your current state flag is boring, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas have earlier flags you could consider flying, to indicate loyalty to both place and history. (Though admittedly, Florida's past state flags are so ugly you probably wouldn't want to try those.) As it turns out, the current Mississippi state flag, with the Confederate Battle Flag in the canton, was never used in Confederate days; during secession, the Magnolia Flag (pictured right) was used.

One particularly notable flag of yesteryear is the Bonnie Blue Flag (pictured left). First used by the short-lived Republic of West Florida (which encompassed parts of modern-day Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana), a version of the flag - sometimes with the original white star, sometimes with a gold star - was later adopted by the Republic of Texas, possibly because its original goal, like of that of the Republic of West Florida, was to be annexed by the US. The flag was used by Mississippi when it seceded in 1861 and was later incorporated into the Magnolia Flag. The Bonnie Blue Flag was likewise used across the Confederacy. Thus, this flag, elegant in its simplicity, can represent several states across the South and, while speaking to the region's Confederate heritage, also speaks to events outside that period.

Other historical flags include the aptly named Come and Take It Flag from Texas's republican days or the Alamo Flag (though its clear connection to the Mexican flag may not sit well with some nativists).

Some states also have flags from their colonial days, such as the old flag of French Louisiana (right, above). Those with an interest in ships might also be drawn to the South Carolina ensign (right below), used not only during secession but also during the American Revolution.

Other American Flags

The history of the United States offers even more options.  The Gadsden Flag (left above), with its iconic "Don't Tread on Me," was first used during the American Revolution (and is available on license plates in Virginia, maybe elsewhere too).  The
Bunker Hill Flag also harkens back to America's earliest days.  And the Fremont Flag (left below), carried by John C. Fremont on his expedition, may be taken as a symbol of the American West and its rugged individualism.

Religious Flags

Religion is a key part of many people's traditional heritage, and there are several religious flags to choose from, be you Catholic, Episcopalian, or Christian writ large.  Moreover, flying a religious flag may be seen as an expression for First Amendment rights against an overweening federal government.

Foreign Flags

At first glance, a foreign flag might seem an odd choice for someone wishing to show patriotism and a connection to a local place in the US. But there are two reasons why this might work. First, most Americans are descended from immigrants from elsewhere. Why not fly a Scottish, Irish, or German flag? Moreover, if you're interested in standing up for liberty, there are several notable groups overseas who have done just that. I am particularly drawn to resistance movements that opposed the Nazis. Why not fly a flag of the Free French (above left), the Polish Home Army (center left), or the flag proposed by members of the July 20 plot who sought to topple Hitler in Operation Valkyrie (bottom left)? Plenty of true heroes to emulate and celebrate there.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Laudato Si' Excerpted

Over at Laudato Si' Excerpted I'll be posting passages from the encyclical by Pope Francis several times a week for the next few months. Below is the introduction to the first installment.

When Pope Francis's encyclical letter Laudato Si' came out, I was a bit befuddled by the media coverage, which claimed that the pope had suddenly become an environmentalist, and also wrote about the poor, with a sprinkling of traditional Catholic condemnations of things like artificial birth control.  Frankly, it sounded like a pretty schizophrenic document (which, in any case, I didn't have time to read).

But I was again reminded of
Laudato Si' when I came across
a Financial Times article about Yellowstone that asked, "Are humans part of nature, or above it?  Why do we care about setting aside 'wild' lands such as Yellowstone?  Why do we care about the survival of wolves in the first place?  Does nature and wildlife have intrinsic value?"  So I picked up the document and was pleased to discover both insight and coherence.

You can read the first set of excerpts at Laudato Si' Excerpted.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ever Ancient, Ever New

Today is the feast of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor. In one of the most well-known passages from his Confessions, he describes his experience of coming to know divine Truth, which he compares to light. At first it is entirely overwhelming, so that he only knows that there is such a light; but in time, he comes to see by this light and to know Him as Christ. Here's the excerpt used in the Office of Readings:
Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light.

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.

Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life, nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
The phrase "ever ancient, ever new" has particular resonance for me of late, as a description not only of God but also the Church's life of faith. (Incidentally, it is no surprise that the same phrase could apply to both, since the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.) Admittedly, this blog is a strong supporter of tradition and a whole variety of ancient things. It is tempting to assume that the oldest forms of the faith are the best and we should simply strive to replicate such storied practices. But Jesus himself teaches that “every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt 13:52). There was a time when monasticism was new. There was a time when the mendicants were new. Today we too are called to express Christianity in ways that engage with new cultures and the contemporary world, without abandoning the riches of our religious patrimony.

H/T to The Crossroads Initiative for the excerpt from the Office of Readings.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

New Zealand's New Flag

In case you haven't heard, New Zealand will be holding a referendum to decide whether or not to replace its current flag:

As an Anglophile, I'd be sad to see the Union Jack go.  And, as a vexillologist I appreciate the British flag's excellent design.  But putting a good design in the corner of your flag doesn't necessarily make the derivative flag a good design.  Moreover, flags are meant to be distinguishable and New Zealand certainly has a problem distinguishing itself from Australia.

There will be voting later this year to choose a candidate which will then go head-to-head against the current flag in a second round of voting next year.

Among the official long list of proposals, there are several that I like.  The white and black fern is a traditional symbol of New Zealand, used since the 19th century, and is a very clean design.  (There's also a nice variant of this with green.)

Another design, titled "Land of the Long White Cloud," incorporates the Southern Cross from the current flag with the colors of the Maori flag:

I also like the Black Jack, which is a stylized version of the current flag, but uses traditional New Zealand black and the koru, an unfolding fern frond, another traditional New Zealand symbol:

Of course there are more possibilities than just those that made the official long list.  One option would be to use the United Tribes Flag, arguably New Zealand's first flag, which incorporates elements of British vexillology.

Do you have a favorite from the long list?  Thoughts on when it's right and wrong to change flags?  Please, share!