Sunday, June 25, 2006

Flagging Enthusiasm

I prefer a man who will burn the flag and then wrap himself in the Constitution to a man who will burn the Constitution and then wrap himself in the flag.
~~ Representative Craig Washington (D-Texas)
Once again, our Congress is ignoring the environment, Iraq, the destruction of the economy, and everything else that really matters. Instead, they're wasting time and money on a subject that looks good for the voters: a ban on burning the US flag. And not just something simple like a law: they want an amendment to the Constitution.

This is, of course, a scam. This is something that lawmakers do to hide the fact that they haven't done anything worthwhile.

I'm not sure who came up with it first, but there's a basic truth floating around out there.
Countries that already outlaw burning the national flag include China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Cuba.
That's Iraq under Saddam, by the way. That seems like a nice crowd to be associated with, doesn't it?

Let's be clear about one thing. Nobody can be hurt when a flag is burned, unless they're busy wrapping themselves in it. A flag is just a symbol. And before we get our knickers all knotted up over the destruction of a symbol, perhaps we should ignore the symbol for a moment. Because we should be more concerned about the people destroying what that flag stands for - America and the values this country used to represent.

There isn't a lot of flag burning going on in America right now. It all seems to be overseas, and mostly in the Middle East - the last place America invaded, you might notice. And oddly enough, since they aren't subject to American laws over there, they aren't too worried about getting arrested for their un-American activities.

And by the way, do you happen to know what the official method of destroying a tattered or frayed flag is? Let's check out the US Code - to be exact, 4 USC 8(k):
The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.
OK. So if this amendment passes, they won't be getting a lot of volunteers for that duty.

Oh, wait. The difference between respectfully burning the flag, and burning the flag in protest of something changes how the arsonist in question is treated? So now we get to arrest people because of what they're thinking? Who is it out there that thinks that a formally-defined federal law enforcing "thought crimes" is a good idea?

Personally, I don't have a problem with Joe Iraqi burning an American flag. I already knew he didn't like us. On the other hand, I have a problem with people who attach flags onto their car to show their patriotism. This started happening a lot right after 9/11.

Trouble is, the average flag (and especially the average small souvenir-type flag, cheaply made in some third-world country) isn't made to stand up to speeds of sixty miles an hour, or even thirty miles an hour. So it doesn't take long before you end up with a frayed red-gray-and-blue rag on a stick. And yes, that qualifies as desecration.

Incidentally, a car is a carefully-engineered machine, and anything attached to the outside, even a three-by-six souvenir flag, will increase wind resistance by a small amount, which will increase the amount of fuel that the car burns. And even if it's only by a miniscule amount, that amount is multiplied by the thousands of other cars on the road with attached flags.

And increased gas mileage means more money into the pockets of Middle Eastern regimes, many of which are known to support terrorism. Which means that by attaching a flag to your car, you are supporting terrorism. Think about that for a while.

But that brings us to the biggest problem with an amendment to the Constitution on his subject. Do you just ban "burning" (which would leave the market wide open for "US Flag Toilet Paper®"), or are you going with a more general "desecration"?

Well, the trouble is, you then have to define "desecration." For example, how about a jacket with an American flag across the back? Or a red-white-and-blue bandanna tied around your head?

What about a Ku Klux Klan rally? Personally, I think that when the American flag is used to celebrate racism, then that action qualifies as desecration. But you don't see me rushing to get an amendment into the Constitution, do you?

Many businesses use the American flag in ads to sell their product. Great. But does that mean that we have to look over the newspaper before we use it to start a fire in the fireplace? Don't want to have the Feds breaking down the door when the two of you are making love on the rug in front of a roaring fire, do you?

Or how about a soda in a "Forth of July Collectable can?" Are you allowed to just throw that away, or will there be a special method for disposing of it?

If you have a flagpole in your front yard and the flag touches the ground as you're lowering it, is that a problem? Even if it gets muddy? What about those displays by various groups where a bunch of souvenir flags are planted in the ground? Are you subject to arrest for stepping on one?

Which leads into the other problem with this concept: they haven't defined "flag." Yeah, it seems like a simple question, but let's go back to that newspaper ad. Suppose somebody printed an American flag on a sheet of newsprint, with a one-inch white border. Is that a flag? Or is it a picture of a flag? And if it's a picture of a flag instead of a real flag, can you burn it, or would you still get in trouble?

For that matter, what if you ran some polyvinyl through that printing press? Is it still a flag if it has a white border around it? Or is it an image of a flag on a cloth-like substance? How about painting an American flag in oil paint on a canvas? It's just a painting, right?

What if someone takes an American flag (an actual flag this time), and paints a large black swastika in the middle of it? Can you burn that? Wouldn't any true patriot want to?

And which flag are we talking about, anyway? America has had a bunch of them, after all. Is it just the current flag that we can't burn, or are we including all the flags through history? The one with thirteen stars in a circle? The forty-eight-star flag from the fifties looks awfully similar to the current one.

What about the various versions of the "Don't Tread On Me" snake? Does he count? That one's usually not even in the right colors.

An amendment to the Constitution over a badly defined and unenforceable "crime" is a waste of both time and money. And how many people would be arrested for burning a red-white-and-yellow flag? Or one with fourteen stripes or fifty-four stars? By definition, they are innocent of any crime, although it might not appear that way to the casual observer.

Maybe we should stick to prosecuting crimes where people are actually getting hurt. Can we do that?

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