Q: If you’re going to fly the flag at night, shouldn’t you shine a light directly on it? I know someone who flies his flag 24 hours a day, but has no direct light. When I mentioned this to him, he says the nearby streetlight is sufficient. Some other neighbors agree with him. Who’s right?
S.B., of Belleville
A: First, I must plead guilty to one of the most heinous crimes an Answer Man can commit: speaking before researching.
When you called, I tentatively agreed with you. Considering the respect we usually show Old Glory —hats off and hands over hearts during the national anthem, for example — I figured the least we should do is require the proper illumination of the Stars and Stripes at night.
And, we do — in what I consider sort of a weaselly way. According to the U.S. Code regarding the flag (adopted June 14, 1923), it states: “It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”
Sounds like one of those Supreme Court decisions that immediately lead to more lawsuits. Exactly how do you define “properly illuminated”? Here is what one leading patriotic organization has decided: “The American Legion interprets ‘proper illumination’ as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer.”
Technically, I guess, if that street light is bright enough so that the average Joe can discern it as a flag while he’s taking his dog for its nightly constitutional, it’s permissible. I suppose it’s truly something you’ll have to run up a flagpole and see if anyone salutes. As you know, the Code imposes no penalties for improper display — only the voice of your conscience (and protests by your neighbors).
Q: On TV, they keep addressing Hillary Clinton as “Madam Secretary” Well, she used to be, but that was certainly a while back. Why does she gets the royal treatment?
H.C., of Millstadt
A: They really aren’t affording her any tribute that wouldn’t be due other dignitaries, according to Matt McDonald who was an associate communications director at the White House under Republican President George W. Bush.
He says that if you invited her to your swanky soiree, rules of protocol would dictate that you introduce her by her last highest title, according to the U.S. order of precedence. For Mrs. Clinton, this would be secretary, or more politely, Madam Secretary. Now, if you had invited John Kerry, the acting secretary, you could announce her as Sen. Clinton to avoid confusion — just as Jimmy Carter still is often called president in similar situations.
McDonald says that etiquette (one step below protocol) suggests that she should be called by her last title, because it’s how most people remember her. Here, he says, you can sometimes engage in a little chummy informality. For example, Mitt Romney’s campaign staff referred to him as “the Gov.”
While I’m sure some would like to call her many other things in the wake of Benghazi and the ongoing furor over her email and speaking fees, Madam Secretary is quite proper.
Q: While on a photo trip for fall pictures, I traveled the Bluff Road, which runs between Fults and Modoc and through Prairie du Rocher. Just before Prairie du Rocher, I saw a sign marked Lake Mildred Drive. It was a one-lane dirt and rock road that went up into the woods as it rose to the top of the bluff overlooking the Mississippi flood plain. I went as far as I could get in a 4-wheel drive but I never found the lake. Yet I remember as a boy in the ’50s going with other kids to that lake, which was surrounded by hills with cattle grazing. When someone figured out that we were downwind and downstream from the cows and the water we were in was for watering cattle, we never went again. Can you help me find a piece of my lost youth?
R.J., of Belleville
A: I’m sure you’ve heard the joke about someone asking directions and being told, “You can’t get there from here.” Well, that apparently is really true if you try to find Lake Mildred by taking Lake Mildred Drive. The twain never meet.
According to Google maps, here’s what you want to do: Instead of taking Lake Mildred Drive, keep driving up Bluff Road toward Fults another 800 feet or so. There you should find G Road. Turn right (it’s the only way you can turn) and follow it three-fourths of a mile to Lake Shore Drive. It won’t be as fancy as the one in Chicago, but you should see Lake Mildred.
Finally, a few addenda:
- Because, as usual, I was a bit long-winded writing about the 1884 Immaculate Conception school fire in Belleville Sunday, this final paragraph had to be axed: The school was rebuilt on the same site and dedicated anew on Dec. 15, 1884. It continued until Notre Dame Academy opened in 1925 at 6301 W. Main St.
- My story in mid-January that debunked all of the silly conspiracy theories surrounding the Alaskan research facility studying the ionosphere drew a complimentary email from Jessica Matthews, the program manager of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “We are excited to carry its world-class research forward as the most capable high-power, high-frequency transmitter for study of the ionosphere,” she wrote, inviting me for a visit. Check it out at www.gi.alaska.edu/facilities/haarp.
- In November, I touched on a question about the worthiness of the Wounded Warrior Project as a charity. Since then, the New York Times and CBS News have done in-depth investigations alleging a massive waste of funds on employee perks despite a generally solid rating from Charity Navigator. Check out the reports at www.cbsnews.com.
Where would you have found the first coin-operated vending machine — and what would you have been buying?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Although there is much doubt today over whether Robert Peary ever reached the North Pole, there seems little question that the married explorer fathered at least two children with his long-standing Intuit mistress, who may have been as young as 14 when they met. He used a nude photo of her bathing in a book on his travels..