Steve Chapman

A good flag is clean, simple and distinctive. The experts at the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) offer an excellent rule: A child should be able to draw it from memory.

For that, you can't beat Texas' tricolor with a white star or Alabama's red X on a white square. If the banner can evoke something about the place, even better -- as with South Carolina's crescent moon over a palmetto tree, New Mexico's sun symbol, Arizona's starburst and Wyoming's buffalo.

The more a flag tries to do, the less likely it is to succeed. Illinois features a bald eagle perched on a boulder, which bears the dates 1818 and 1868. The bird grips a stars-and-stripes shield in one talon, and its beak holds a streamer proclaiming "State Sovereignty, National Union" (with "sovereignty" upside down). At its feet are what looks like palm fronds and shoots of grass, and behind it is a sun rising over a body of water. All these images congregate above the state name.

This is not a flag but a novel. It's got everything but Abraham Lincoln and Wrigley Field. Marilyn Vos Savant couldn't draw it from memory.

Surely we could do better. For most states, where the flag inspires only boredom, any change would be a good change. Well, almost any change: When Georgia got rid of a flag that included a Confederate symbol, the new model was voted worst in the country by the NAVA. Two years later, it was replaced by yet another version.

Georgia, however, deserves praise for trying to get it right. So does at least one guy in Oklahoma -- I mean, OKLAHOMA!

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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