Tuesday, February 21, 2012


by Dick Mac

As my friend Henry has taken to saying: "I hear Whitney Houston died."

There was a funeral Saturday, and her family avoided a spectacle.

Houston's death was not a surprise to most. She had led a drug-addled life in a tumultuous relationship with singer Bobby Brown. Word is that she often tried to clean-up, and that she died while using prescription drugs, not illicit drugs; that her body just gave-up.

The toxicology report will tell more details.

In America, there is a particularly odd fetish with flags, their meaning, and their importance. The flag is revered as a symbol of our greatness and most Americans get more upset by desecration of a flag than by the gutting of the U.S. Constitution. They wave it around in heated pitches about Jesus Christ and the other founding fathers. (Oh, wait, you mean Jesus wasn't a founding father?)

These faux-patriots swinging flagpoles around often appear to consider themselves "conservative" and "old-fashioned" and "concerned about family values."

They (and I generalize) often wave the flag around while working to deny citizens their civil rights, or condemning the lifestyles of people with whom they are uncomfortable, or just to scream and cry in the face of progress and human development.

Others (and I generalize) burn the flag in protest of government policy, most often war. Maybe it is always over the issue of war.

Perhaps the most moving use of a flag is the draping of a coffin. When the remains of fallen soldiers are brought back to the United States, the coffins are always shrouded in the American flag. One is a powerful image; but sometimes there are multiple coffins and I find it even more disturbing and saddening.

No matter the reason people use to honor or desecrate a flag, it is a powerful symbol for us as Americans. People get very emotional about the status of the flag and its role in our nation.

The flag is used and abused in many ways. I recall a western movie I saw in the 1960s. Some bad guys had taken control of an outpost on the road West. The next morning, the captive proprietor explained to the bad guys that the military patrol would expect to see his flag flying at dawn, and if he didn't raise it they would certainly come and investigate. The sly old fox then hung the flag upside-down, which signaled the patrol and they came to his rescue.

Perhaps the most common use of the flag to communicate a particular message, is the flying of a flag at half-staff (I have also heard it called half-mast, but that might be just in a nautical description).

I found this explanation:
In the United States, the President can issue an executive order for the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff upon the death of principal figures of the United States government, and others, as a mark of respect to their memory.

See, Half-staff at wikipedia.org

My understanding is that a governor can also order the flag to half-staff.

During the public outcry of sadness and support for Whitney Houston's family, friends and fans, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered that the flags be flown at half-staff. A touching gesture for a very famous New Jersey native.

Of course, somebody was offended.

John Burri, of Michigan, believes it was offensive. Beyond his obvious hegemony and xenophobia, there seems little to support his argument that it was offensive. Like many "hawks" and "conservatives," he has a very narrow and incorrect interpretation of American law and legal tradition. The flag isn't being used the way he thinks it should be used, so he will burn it.

Burri believes that because his son died a hero soldier, in 2005, that flying the flag at half-staff for a state's native cultural giant is wrong -- well, THIS cultural giant, at least.
"They're watering down the term of what a true hero is these days," John Burri told ABC News. "I thought it was offensive to every family's fallen solider out there, and it cheapens the meaning of lowering the flag."

John Burri, Father of Fallen Soldier, Burns NJ Flag to Protest Whitney Houston Tribute

I know: huge disconnect. How he gets from the honor and glory of his son's untimely death to the gesture of a governor honoring a cultural icon a thousand miles away is beyond me.

Something tells me he'd have no problem with it if John Wayne or Charlton Heston or Ted Nugent died.

That's just how faux-patriots behave: they have no knowledge of facts, laws, rights, or Constitution legacy. They have feelings (and when it comes to people different from them, they have strong feelings) and they wave the flag around to make a point, as if they even know what the flag and the Constitution represent.

I thought it odd that the flags were lowered to half-mast; but I do not see any problem with it. The governor can make certain gestures and this is what he chose. Good for him!

I will light a candle at church for Mr. Burri's son. And I will pray that Mr. Burri finds some peace and acceptance in his troubled life.

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