Desperado Bits -- U2041: Starred and Spangled
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 99 10:16:56 -0700
Subject: Desperado Bits -- U2041: Starred and Spangled
Excerpted-from: desperado U2041: Starred and Spangled
From: Tom Parmenter <tompar@WORLD.STD.COM>
A FLAG FALLS IN BOSTON
And, if present laws are not enough, then the Flag Consecration Amendment,
as it is impiously called, will soon make its escape from the cowardly
halls of Congress, where no one dares slay it in its crib.
The Flag Consecration Amendment. That sounds so nice and soothing compared
to those other nasty amendments, the First, the Second, the Fifth, hateful
things! Who knows what other terrible behaviors are being encouraged
elsewhere in the Bill of Rights.
Our Consecrated Flag should be removed from the Bill of Rights, where
somebody is afraid that the flag will come to harm? How can the flag come
to harm from the Bill of Rights?
I claim some small credit for killing off the last spasm of the
anti-flagburning amendment back in the early 90s. What I wrote back then
still makes sense to me, so I put it all together, padded it out with some
more recent stuff, and hereby present, why the flagburning amendment makes
Desperado #2017, 3 August 1989
I didn't fly the flag this Fourth of July. I don't always fly the flag,
but I have a flag and I do put it out from time to time. I've even been
thinking of getting a pole.
I've known correct flag behavior as long as I can remember and I don't
believe I've ever let the flag touch the ground in my life. I know how
to hang it from the side of a building (blue field to viewer's left)
and I know how to fly it at half-staff (run it up to the top and bring
it back down to halfway). I was camping when the Marines were killed
in Lebanon and we flew it half-staff for them.
When I see a flag being burnt by some spiteful domestic rebel or raging
foreigner, it makes my stomach turn.
But I didn't fly the flag because of freedom of speech. It's my
favorite freedom, by far. I thought about flying the flag, but also
putting up a sign saying "Hands off the First Amendment". I thought
about flying it upside down as a symbol of distress. I wish I'd had a
"Don't Tread On Me" flag, then I could have put that one up. In the
end, I didn't fly anything because it was too depressing to deal with.
Symbolic speech: My favorite example is dumping that damn tea in the
harbor. Either that, or naked dancing, which has also been protected
by the Supreme Court as freedom of speech, symbolic division. Jefferson
Franklin and Washington would have liked that one, by all accounts.
Also in the symbolic speech department, some WWII veterans north of
Boston hung five members of the Supreme Court in effigy to express their
disapproval of the flag-burning decision. I hope some legal scholar or
left-wing hippie pointed out to the vets that hanging-in-effigy cases
are just the sort of thing that would be much more likely to get you in
trouble if there were an anti-flag-burning amendment to the
In Hungary the other day, they reburied Imre Nagy, the ex-premier who
led that nation in a thaw that failed in 1959. He'd been buried in
secret up to now, but glasnost said he could be buried in public and
the ceremonies were quite moving. At the funeral flew Hungarian flags
with the centers torn out. This was the symbol of Nagy's freedom
movement, because the old Hungarian flag had had a communist symbol
superimposed on it, and with that symbol torn out, they created a new
symbol, using highly valuable symbolic speech.
I'm even willing to protect that scumbag artist in Chicago who set up
his art (so-called, worth about as much as a crucifix in a jar of piss
in my opinion) such that you had to step on a flag to see the thing.
I'd protect him, but I'd never step on a flag to look at it.
All these people, me, vets, artistic-type artists, Abbie Hoffman and
his shirt, and even the flag-burners (domestic and foreign), are showing
their belief in the power of the symbol of the flag. The only way the
flag can keep that symbolic power is by living under the first amendment
along with the naked dancers, tea-dumpers, and radicals, and sidewalk
The one patriotic gesture I managed to make on the Fourth of July was
to place a bet that the anti-flag-burning amendment would not pass. The
deadline was the Fourth of July, 1992. I sure hope it doesn't pass
because if it does, I can only think of one way to protest it. If I
have to pay off the bet, then there's one more thing I'll have to do.
And the thought turns my stomach.
I won the bet, but it still makes me sick to think I'll have to burn a flag
in protest if they pass the Flag Consecration Amendment.
Desperado #2018 1 September 1989
A friend of mine is planning to market Instant First Amendment kits:
paper flag + book of matches.
Desperado #2022 29 November 1989
We burned two American flags on our Thanksgiving camping trip. My
brother Jim bought both flags at a yard sale in Texas back when he was
a hippie. Flags were a popular decoration in those days. (A woman I
know hitched all the way across the country in winter wearing nothing
(nothing) but sandals, a coat, and a minidress made out of an American
We'd been using one flag as our camp flag for eight years or so and it
was pretty faded and stained. We decided it was time for it to go. So
we ran up the newer flag and prepared to get rid of the old one. As
all flag tenders know, you dispose of a flag by burning. So we built
up a huge campfire and burnt it. We all stood up and raised a cheer
for the flag and the first amendment and it burned away beautifully.
One guy sang the Marseillaise in French on the general principle that
freedom was indivisible.
As we were striking the newer flag at the end of the camping trip, we
discovered that our fireworks had burnt two large holes in the new flag.
Quite spontaneously, we started singing the "Star Spangled Banner",
picking up at the part about "the rocket's red glare". And our flag
did look a lot like the one from Fort McHenry. So, now we'll be getting
another flag and burning another flag. We still haven't been forced to
burn one to honor the first amendment. I can wait.
Here it is ten years later and I have another flag, worn and soiled, ready
to be burned. I would not dishonor it by burning it as a protest against
the Flag Consecration Amendment. I'll buy a nice new one for that, wool
and nylon blend, with embroidered stars. Bright, bright colors, red,
white, and blue. I'll burn the dingy, rather cheap, flag that grew old
flying outside my house in the old-fashioned way.
WHAT ROYKO SAID
Desperado #3032 3 July 1990
Flags spotted between Flag Day and the Fourth of July: three dozen
little ones in with all the other picnic goods at the supermarket,
T-shirt at the baseball game with 50 baseballs in place of the
stars, Campbell's Soup collectible ad from the 1890s with 44 soup
cans in place of the stars (O death where is thy sting, eh, Andy?),
paper fans in flag motif, flags flying from every antenna in a
used-car lot, gigantic flags flying over Burger Kings in New
Hampshire, and Mike Royko's survey of the police and fire
departments of the three largest cities in the country to discover
not one single flag-burning incident reported. Why Robert Dole
and George Bush want to give three punk-politicos and 500 Iranian
mob-incitement experts their own Constitutional amendment remains
beyond me. Royko's answer: "They think we're kind of stupid."
Royko asked the New York cops if anybody was burning flags. The
NYPD answer: "Nah. And if they do, nobody'd notice. It's not like
somebody setting fire to himself. They do that in front of the
Presumably not, however, a suitable case for Constitutional
Most people know, as these so-called superpatriots like Senator Robert Dole
and Ronald Reagan (who participated in a ceremony that involved taking a
flag the size of two football fields and laying it on the ground) and
President Bush do not know, the United States has had a law called the U.S.
Flag Code on the books since I don't know when that dictates how to treat
the Star Spangled Banner under all sorts of circumstances. It's all the
law we need. It says, among other things, don't put it on the ground, burn
it when it's worn out, and don't fly it after dark (unless you're the
I don't think I mentioned, by the way, that the Supreme Court's Pledge of
Allegiance ruling that produced so much putrid posturing in the last
campaign, has quite an inspiring story behind it, one that should make
Americans proud. The decision was rendered in 1943 in the middle of a
"good" war against an evil (no "quotes") enemy. It was rendered in a suit
brought by Jehovah's Witnesses, who not only refused to salute the flag,
but also refused to fight, or, in fact, to treat the state like a god in
any way. Thus, it is to these brave members of a despised sect that we
owe another little bit of freedom of speech. It is symptomatic of the
debased state of the American press and the Democratic party that this
story was never told during the campaign. Speaking of Jehovah's witnesses
and big democracies, the Indian Supreme Court has handed down similar
rulings in cases brought by Witnesses.
The campaign mentioned above was the Dukakis-Bush election. You may recall
that the Bush campaign visited a flag factory. "It must be great to work
here," enthused a stoogish phony New Jersey Republican Congressman (so many
words to say the same thing).
I guess those Arkansas troopers who mustered to protect the flag burner
back in 1990 must have been sent out by Gov. Bill Clinton.
I'm not playing here. I really love the American flag and what it stands
for. And what it stands for is absolutely denied by the current Flag
Consecration Amendment. Consecration! Desecration through denigration,
the flag, the symbol of our freedom can't stand out here in the free air
with the rest of us, it has to have a cop standing by.
I was a reporter for a local wire service in Chicago in 1963 when Kennedy
was assassinated. After some fruitless reporting -- including the fact
that the fire commissioner had no special plans to deal with riots -- I
went back to the office. I sat down and typed a short news bulletin on
how to fly the flag at half-staff, you run it smartly up to the top of the
pole and then lower it respectfully to the halfway position. In the
evening, you go backwards, raise it slowly to the top and then bring
smartly down. I wrote that out from memory and sent it out on the local
wire. The Associated Press picked it up and moved it on the national wire.
We hadn't had any widespread public grief in a long time and no one knew
what the etiquette was. I like to think that little note of mine was
printed in lots of papers and filed in lots of morgues and still gets
pulled out to explain the routine. So I think I can claim to have taught
an important, if melancholy, bit of flag etiquette to millions of people.
The reason for all that rigamarole of raising it smartly to the top and
then lowering it and the reverse is to make it clear that the flag is not
being dipped to anyone. The flag is never dipped to anyone. Period. I
don't see why the First Amendment should be dipped either.
Forward with daring and whimsy
Copyright 1999, Tom Parmenter
© 1999 Peter Langston