Friday, June 12, 2015


   The American national flag has come through an eventful course of changes. The USA flag which we see these days has been effective since July 4, 1960. This was following the inclusion of Hawaii in the United States of America. However, this flag featuring 50 stars on a canton against the background of 13 stripes - 7 red and 6 white - has been evolved through a long course of time.
   American national flag has come through an eventful course of changes. The flag which we see these days has been effective since July 4, 1960. This was following the inclusion of Hawaii in the United States of America. However, this flag featuring 50 stars on a canton against the background of 13 stripes - 7 red and 6 white - has been evolved through a long course of time.

   From June 14, 1777, the day the Stars and Stripes, had received the approval of the Continental Congress till the June 14, 1960, there had been some 27 changes in the face of the flag. Out of these 25 were due to the difference in the number of stars alone. In fact, with each state being annexed to the Union, the number of stars in the flag had to be changed.
   Quite interestingly, the history of observance of the National Flag Day is no less a lengthy process. From June 14, 1877, the day when the Congress observed the centennial of the birth of the national flag, till August 3, 1949, when President Truman designated the National Flag Day. There has been a sustained effort by individuals as well as organizations to promote the observance of the Day.

   Well, the Stars and Stripes came to be regarded as the national flag with the official recognition of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. This was the year following our nation's independence. So, what was there before this Stars and Stripes came to secure its berth as the national flag? Which one was used to really flag off the journey of an independent Union of American States, a year ago? How did it look like?

The Grand Union Flag
   It showed the British Union Flag of 1606, the predecessor of the Union Jack, in the canton. Its field consisted of seven red and six white alternated stripes representing the 13 colonies. The latter officially replaced it on June 14, 1777.

Other earlier versions
   There were some other early versions of the Flag. A very popular one among them was, the first Navy Jack. It had the 13 red-white stripes with a rattlesnake overall, and the motto "Don't Tread on Me."

The 1st national Flag
   Called the Stars and Stripes, this was formally approved by the Continental Congress--on June 14, 1777. The blue canton was to contain 13 stars, but the layout of the stars was left undefined, and several patterns are known.The one designed by the legendary Betsy Ross is said to feature the stars arranged in five rows of either two or three stars.

The Navy adopted its own flag
   Some related designs that followed soon, include the 76 Flag. It was flown at the Battle of Bennington on Aug. 16, 1777.

Hulbert's Stars and Stripes
   Yet another contemporary flag that was cast in the mold of the Stars and Stripes was the one designed by John Hulbert, a magistrate. It's stripes were the same but the canton featured a diamond-shaped field of 13 stars was.

The Stars and Stripes - 1795 version
   Stars and Stripes remained unchanged until May 1, 1795, when two more stars and two more stripes were added to reflect the admission to the union of Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792). It was this flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the "Star Spangled Banner".

Stars & Stripes - 1818 version
   In 1818, with five more states being admitted, the Congress enacted legislation. This stated that henceforth the stripes should remain 13, whereas the number of stars should always match the number of states. It was also decided that any new star should be added on the July 4 following a state's admission. This has been the system ever since.

The 1863 version
   On May 1, 1863, a new national flag, the Stainless Banner was adopted. However, the design did not last long.

The 1865 version
   But a still short lived was a modification of the Stainless Banner. It was adopted, rather futilely, about a month before the end of the war in April 1865.

Stars and Stripes - standardized version
   Since then every time a new state was annexed, the size of the canton, as well as the stripes got altered, so as to accommodate the increased number of stars. It took to Oct. 29, 1912, when an executive order standardized the proportions and relative sizes of the elements of the flag.
   However, the exact shades of color of the elements were yet to be standardized. And it took till 1934 to standardize this.
   The national flag which we see these days has been effective since July 4, 1960. This was following the inclusion of Hawaii in the United States of America. However, this flag featuring 50 stars on a canton against the background of 13 stripes - 7 red and 6 white - has been evolved through a long period of eventful years.

   Though the Flag Day was first celebrated in 1877, with the centennial of the U.S. flag's existence, the idea of making it a public celebration is believed to have originated in 1885.
   In course of time a number of individuals and organizations advocated the adoption of a national day of commemoration for the U.S. Flag. However, B.J. Cigrand, a teacher from the Wisconsin Public School, District 6, is believed to be a forerunner of the thought. He organized the pupils in the Fredonia, to observe June 14 as 'Flag Birthday'. It was the 108th anniversary of the official adoption of The Stars and Stripes, the first national flag of the United States. It was a bid to inspire and educate the school children with spirit of the Flag as well as love for the nation. And it was not a single shot bid. Cigrand continued to advocate the need for its observance in the following years through numerous magazines and newspaper articles and public addresses. But the celebration was yet to take off in a well defined style and in a wider scale.

   On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for the children of his school, and his idea of observing Flag Day was later adopted by the State Board of Education of New York. On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and on June 14 of the following year, the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution, celebrated Flag Day.
   Inspired by Colonel J Granville Leach, a historian, the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America adopted a resolution on April 25, 1893. The resolution requested the mayor of Philadelphia and all others in authority and all private citizens to display the Flag on June 14th. Leach went on to recommend that thereafter the day be known as 'Flag Day'. It was also recommended that on that day, school children be assembled for appropriate exercises, with each child being given a small Flag.

   As a result of the resolution, Dr. Edward Brooks, then Superintendent of Public Schools of Philadelphia, directed that Flag Day exercises be held on June 14, 1893 in Independence Square. School children were assembled, each carrying a small Flag, and patriotic songs were sung and addresses delivered.
   In 1894, the governor of New York directed that on June 14 the Flag be displayed on all public buildings. Meanwhile, with BJ Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn as the driving force, the Illinois organization, known as the American Flag Day Association, came into being. Its purpose was to promote the holding of Flag Day exercises. And thanks to its initiative, on June 14th, 1894, the first general public school children's celebration of Flag Day in Chicago was held. More than 300,000 children participated in the programs held various parks across Chicago. Adults, too, participated in patriotic programs in different parts of the country. And the celebration registered increasing popularity as more and more localities and states over the next three decades.

   The Proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson established it officially on May 30th, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years following Wilson's proclamation, it was not until August 3rd, 1949, the 14th of June was designated by President Harry Truman as National Flag Day to be celebrated each year across the nation.


   Footsteps reverberate down an empty hallway. Outside, wicked winds howl as they lap at the foundation of the house, enhanced by the endless drone of pelting raindrops. Occasionally, there is a blinding flash of lightning that reveals the maker of these footsteps. He is tall and wearing some sort of mask. In his right hand is a small axe, and it is dripping blood. He's after you, and it seems that no matter how fast you run, he's keeping up with you.
   What can you do to escape? Why is this man after you and why does he want to kill you? Who is he? All that becomes suddenly immaterial as you trip and fall down. The man with the axe is almost upon you as you find your muscles unable to respond and you try to crawl away. You plead with your legs to help you up and run away, but they feel like jelly and refuse to work. The man is right by you now. He leans down and grabs a hold of your leg. You're helpless as you watch his arm's motion make a huge arc. Lightning flashes once more and gleams on the blade of the axe as it begins its journey towards your chest. This is it---you're going to die.

   There now----didn't that feel great? No? Then you are definitely in the minority. Since the days of "Ugh-ugh" the caveman, people have been telling tales to scare the daylights out of each other. We love scary stories and are fascinated by accounts of murder and other forms of death. We are positively addicted to stories about werewolves, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. We crave books and movies that tell about ghosts, zombies, and evil spirits. Did you ever wonder why this is true?
   Fright does things to us. It makes us aware of our surroundings as every fiber of our being becomes sensitive to everything and everyone around us. Adrenalin flows like water over Niagara Falls, and our bodies tingle as we go into the defensive mode to protect ourselves from whatever threatens us, real or imaginary. We never feel more alive than when there is the possibility of imminent death, and this is especially true immediately after such an incident becomes part of our lives.

   In a world that is constantly more "user friendly" and "ho-hum" to us, we find that our lives are getting dull, even mundane, and we need something to spice them up. Horror is like an addicts fix to us, and adrenaline offers the cheapest of all possible highs. We will do just about anything we can to experience its effects and make our lives more exciting, even if only for a few moments. Ask anybody who's afraid of heights yet will ride a roller coaster why he does it.
   Where are the biggest lines at the amusement park? Not at the tent where you can see the world's largest horse, that's for sure. Look for something like the "Death Defying Flaming Triple Loop of Doom", and that's where you'll find the biggest crowd. Our need for excitement, but most importantly, our need for fear, dictates this. It's like hypnotism for our feelings.

   As far back as the days of silent movies, the most popular shows were those that dealt with horror and monsters. Here in America, a versatile actor by the name of Lon Chaney, Sr. set the bar by practically torturing himself to make his frightful characters appear real. In "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", he strapped on a fake hump that was so heavy it forced him to walk with a stoop. For "Phantom of the Opera", he peeled back his nose, eyes, and mouth with thin metal wires to stretch his skin and make his face more repulsive and skull-like. His portrayal of The Phantom remains the definitive version.
   In Europe, most notably in Germany, the horror genre was well represented too, with such films as "Nosferatu", a vampire tale loosely based on Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula" and whose star, Max Schreck, was so convincing that stories are still being told about how he might have been a real vampire. Strange reports that leaked out during production support that theory, and it's even been said that Nosferatu's death scene at the end was so realistic because it was real. In December of 2000, the film

"Shadow of the Vampire" was released, telling the story of that premise. Unfortunately, it made the mistake of coming out between Christmas and New Year's Day, a period when no one wants to see a horror film based on the making of a horror film.
   We have retained our love of horror over the years. We love to be scared out of our wits in the confines of a dark theatre, where it's safe---or is it? It has been well documented that during horror films, patrons rarely venture into the restrooms. Some people readily admit that they are afraid to do so, and wait until after the movie ends so they can go when there is a crowd for protection. Some movie studios really milked that fear angle and actually claimed that if anyone died of fright during the showing of their film, the victim's family would be paid a cash settlement. No record exists of anyone's family ever collecting this money.

   For men, going to such a film with a lady often replenishes their macho ego as their lady friend or wife holds on to them while the movie plays. It makes their chest hairier and they feel bigger, even manlier because women seek their protection. It's therapeutic for both sexes, something that at least temporarily can increase the bond between the two. Psychologists have proven this to be a fact.
   The end result, clearly, is that fright is good for us because of its effects on our bodies and minds. It engages sections of our brains that are often dormant, jolting them into use and allowing feelings that we normally suppress to be put in the forefront and used, which in turn helps us put forth every resource we have, giving us a sensation of euphoria. We are always looking for new ways to achieve this, even subconsciously, and horror is an avenue to reach this state of mind and body.

   In the thirties and forties, we had an unending parade of "human monsters" such as werewolves, vampires, and mad doctors to ignite our fears. The 50's and 60's featured a run of "atomic monsters"---dinosaurs and other giant beasts revived by bomb blasts or brought back to life somehow by being freed from a long hibernation. The 70's were what best could be described as the "decade of zombies", wherein it seems everyone had a new way to bring the dead back to life, and George Romero did it best with his "Night of the Living Dead" trilogy. The "Living Dead" films were more realistic and frightening because both the monsters and the victims were everyday people like us, forcing us to take a closer look at our society's failures. Starting in the late 70's and stretching into today, we were witness to an endless variety of serial killers and murderous psychopaths that endures to this day, along with a sprinkling of supernatural creatures for good measure.

   There is apparently no end in sight to this cycle, and it becomes more evident when we look at retail sales receipts and discover that Halloween is now a close second to Christmas in regards to the amount of money spent for food, decorations and related entertainment.By all means, go ahead and see "Halloween 37" or "Friday the 13th, Part 95". It just may be what your body needs, and as it turns out, it's good for you.



    A sport for all times, the Calcio Storico or traditional football played in costume, in Florence, Italy, dates back to the 15th century. Woven with Italian brain, brawn and passion, the Calcio Storico was played by the aristocratic young noble men in front of the Basilica of Santa Croce and some times in the areas of Via Il Prato, Piazza della Signoria or Piazza Santa Maria Novella in celebration of the Feast of St. John. Held every year on June 24th, the awesome pageant of the Calcio Storico takes you to its ancient origins where ‘calcio in costume’ or ‘costume football’ was played for over 500 years.

The playing field

    With traditional districts to identify each of the four teams, the Calcio Storico, ‘calcio livrea’ or ‘football in livery’, colors the spirited pageant with the teams dressed in different colors, blue for St. Croce, red for St. Maria Novella, white for St. Spirito and green for St. Giovanni. Stimulating and involving body, mind and soul, the bloody and violent sport of the Calcio Storico stunned even the armies of Charles V, who had come to re-install the Medici government with the sound of firearms and the cannon tearing through the air. The Florentines continued their game as if nothing had happened as His Royal Majesty and his Imperial army stared in utter shock at the Renaissance costumed players as they proudly upheld their traditional game.

    Written by Count Giovanni de’Bardi di Vernio in 1580 in his ‘Treatise on Football’, the Calcio Storico has 54 players divided into two teams which are lined up in three rows.
    Though there are no major rules in this game, the final result has to end in a ‘caccia’ or goal. Each end of the opposite walls has a four-foot wooden wall that runs its entire length. The round red and white ball is tossed over the wooden wall which denotes a ‘caccia’ or a goal. In the center of each goal wall a narrow white tent with red trimmings and a red flag guards its goal while the captain of the team with the flag

Some of the pagentry

bearer stand with the respective team’s flag near the tent. The color of the balls and the tents vary according to the designated teams who are playing the match. Each year it varies and the finalists play the last match which decides the winner for that year. The game resembles Greco-Roman wrestling simulating the movements and motions with a mixture of rugby and soccer. The color of the balls and the tents vary according to the designated teams who are playing the match. The game itself is said to originate from an ancient Roman ball sport, which became the sport of princes and noblemen in the golden age of the Tuscan capital.

    With sand layering the entire square, the players run with the ball in their hands and pass it to their team mates. As they run, the opponent team tries to stop the player and pin them down till they are rescued by their own team players. This often results in their costumes being torn to bits and the players bloodied up but not too severely. There are six referees positioned at various points dressed in colorful Renaissance outfit of smooth velvet caps with ostrich feathers and a doublet of rich shades with knickerbockers. The referee judge with a sword has a plumed hat that he sweeps with a flourish to acknowledge change of sides. The goal scored by the winning team spurs the standard bearer to run around the square waving the team’s flag, whilst the losing

team’s standard bearer looks down-faced. Before each game is played, a long and solemn procession starts from Piazza Santa Maria Novella at 4 p.m., and winds through Via de’Banchi into Via Rondinelli to Via Tornabuoni going through Via Strozzi, around Piazza della Republica and into Via degli Speziali and up the winding Via Calzaiuoli to the picturesque Piazza della Signora right to Via della Ninna and finally through Via de’Neri till it reaches Borgo Santa Croce with much fanfare and trumpets.
Horsemen follow with foot soldiers in armor or the ‘alabardieri’, completely suited with the ancient Florentine helmets of iron and corsalets of leather. Twenty drummers perform in sync, wearing dashing yellow and blue silk tunics with the famous crimson

lily of Florence emblazoned on their drums as a symbol of freedom and peace. The Ball Bearer carries the ball with the colors of the chosen teams followed by twenty six infantry men in colorful uniforms with feathers in their caps. A young heifer bedecked with garlands being the traditional prize of the winners is led by two oxen drivers who are dressed in white smocks with leather vests with enthusiastic shouts of ‘Viva Fiorenza!’ echoing around. A presenter announces the members of the aristocratic