Raising the red flag

中国日报网 2012-12-25 10:46



Raising the red flag

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Nobody raised any red flags about a housing bubble until 2001.” Red flags?

My comments:

What red flags, you wonder?

Here, raising red flags is a metaphor. In other words, nobody raised any real red flags (such as the red flag of China). All they did was giving a warning signal.

They didn’t do that of course.

Sorry, this is getting a little confusing. Let’s do it again. “Nobody raised any red flags about a housing bubble until 2001” means this:

A housing bubble was brewing but nobody saw it as a great threat coming. Either they didn’t see it at all or they didn’t see it as a bubble that may burst in their face any time soon. Therefore nobody gave any warnings about it until 2001 – when it was too late.

The housing bubble (in America) worked like this: Banks kept giving mortgage loans to anyone who wanted it whether they could afford it or not. Banks kept doing this because one, people really wanted a home of their own, which is understandable; two, there was, well, is a commission to be made whenever a deal is cut.

Which is understandable also, of course, to some extent. Well, not getting into the rights and wrongs of it on the part of the banks, the long and short of it is, people who could not really afford it began to own homes via mortgage, or sub-mortgage. Because the mortgage or sub-mortgage loans became readily available, everybody got on the bandwagon and wanted to buy a house for themselves. That created a greater demand for houses, which in turn inflated housing prices.

Then, somewhere in 2007 and 2008, many people stopped paying their mortgages. Housing prices collapsed. Mortgage banks went bust – because all they had left were bad deals and reclaimed houses that nobody wanted and therefore worthless.

In other words, the bubble burst.

Oops, I’m afraid we’re straying from the focal point of our discussion, and the focal point is the red flag, used metaphorically as a warning signal.

In many areas of industry and life in general, from past to the present, people use the red flag as a warning signal. In railway stations, for instance, we see, both in real life and in movies, people raising a green flag a lot. That’s a sign of all peace, no danger. When a red flag (or a red flashlight at night) is raised, however, train drivers know there’s something wrong and will stop the carriages immediately.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online says: “The earliest citation for ‘red flag’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1602 and shows that at that time the flag was used by military forces to indicate that they were preparing for battle.”

“The earliest citation of ‘red flag’ in the sense of a warning”, it says, “is dated 1777 and refers to a flag warning of flood.”

Anyways, raising the red flag is a warning sign, signaling something is the matter and you’d better be careful. It is a metaphor, i.e. nobody is waving any real red flags, especially not any of those red flags as a symbol of socialism.

Alright, here are recent media examples of the red flag as a warning sign or signal:

1. In certain respects, the tale of the Ka-Nefer-Nefer follows a familiar script: like many disputed antiquities, the Egyptian funerary mask was unearthed last century and quickly vanished, spending nearly 50 years in obscurity before resurfacing on the European art market in the late 1990s. The St. Louis Art Museum soon bought the mask – an elaborately tooled cartonnage of blended gold, glass and linen. It has since become the centerpiece in a bitter ownership dispute between the museum, which claims clear title, and Egypt, which charges the mask was plundered from a government storeroom.

But this story went decidedly off-script last year after U.S. officials, acting on Egypt’s behalf, entered the fray. The feds informed museum leaders that they believed the mask was stolen, and they intended to use the courts to seize the artifact and return it to Egypt. But where some museums might have simply handed over the goods, St. Louis went on the attack, filing its own a pre-emptive lawsuit that claimed the statute of limitations had expired – an aggressive challenge from an institution that has repeatedly defied calls to release its grip on this pricey piece of loot.

“This is very unusual,” Patty Gerstenblith, who directs the Center for Art, Museum & Cultural Heritage Law at DePaul University, told me not long after the museum filed its suit. “This is the first time I’ve seen a public institution like a museum deciding to expend its funds to proactively sue the government.”

Now comes U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey, who on March 31 handed museum leaders a legal victory, and a moral challenge, when he dismissed the government's forfeiture claim, finding it “devoid of any facts showing that the Mask was ‘missing’ because it was stolen and then smuggled out of the country.”

Indeed, there are no official records showing that the mask was sold by – or stolen from – the Egyptian government. Rather, Egyptian records indicate that the mask, excavated during a state-sponsored dig in the early 1950s, was registered to the Egyptian Antiquities Service. The government kept it in storage until 1966, when officials shipped it to Cairo for restoration. From there, the paper trail goes cold. It was not until seven years later, during a routine inventory in 1973, that the mask came up missing.

Legally, at least, the Ka-Nefer-Nefer simply vanished....

The St. Louis museum purchased the Ka-Nefer-Nefer in 1998, when the Aboutaams’ father, the late Sleiman Aboutaam, still ran the company. In subsequent years, museum officials have maintained that their pre-purchase investigation of the mask was “exemplary” and included inquiries with the Art Loss Register, the International Foundation for Art Research and, as an INTERPOL member, the Missouri Highway Patrol. They also hand-delivered an inquiry to Mohammed Saleh, the then-director of the Cairo Museum. The mask came back clean.

There was no red flag,” said David Linenbroker, an attorney for the museum. “Part of the issue here is that the Egyptians didn't keep track of what they had in their storerooms. The fact that there was no red flag raised – what are you supposed to do?” - For the St. Louis Art Museum, a Legal Victory Raises Ethical Questions, TheAtlantic.com, May 30 2012.

2. Cycling champion Jody Cundy was sensationally disqualified from racing for gold yesterday.

There were gasps and boos in the velodrome after officials ruled that the Paralympian, who has won seven gold medals for Britain, was guilty of a false start and would not be allowed to try again.

In an extraordinary outburst, a distraught Cundy shouted at officials, telling them they were ‘ruining my life’.

He was still yelling as he was dragged from the velodrome by a coach.

The decision outraged the 6,000 spectators packed into the velodrome and triggered a furious reaction on Twitter.

It also overshadowed another day of spectacular British cycling success, with Mark Colbourne winning gold, Jon-Allan Butterworth, Aileen McGlynn, and Shaun McKeown individual silvers, and Darren Kenny bronze.

Cundy’s back wheel had spun crazily as he exited the start gates in the C4-C5 1km time trial and he put his hand up to signify a false start, assuming he would be able to start again.

But officials raised the red flag and refused to review the incident on TV monitors.

Cundy, 33, who has an artificial leg, was incensed when told of the decision.

‘You can’t do this, I’ve worked all my life for this,’ he yelled at officials.

- Fury in the velodrome! Disqualified British Paralympic cyclist loses cool with officials and rants ‘You’ve ruined my life’, DailyMail.co.uk, August 31, 2012.

3. When the parents of Adam Lanza divorced, the settlement left Nancy Lanza with $24,150 a month in alimony payments and able to live a comfortable life and care for her troubled son.

Nancy Lanza, 52, was her son's first victim Friday, shot to death in the spacious home they shared, authorities said. Adam, 20, then took his mother’s car to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he shot his way into the building and opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before turning a gun on himself.

New details emerged Monday about how Adam Lanza’s family and the staff at his high school kept a watchful eye over the reserved boy, who seemed to spend much of his time in solitude after finishing high school.

Friends of the family said he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. As early as age 10, Adam Lanza was taking medication, according to his former baby sitter, Ryan Kraft, now an aerospace engineer in Hermosa Beach.

“I know there was something administered. I’m not sure what,” he said. There were never any signs that Lanza was dangerous, he said. “There were no red flags that would say something like this would happen.”

Nancy Lanza cautioned Kraft to never let him out of his sight, even briefly. “The instructions were to always supervise him visually,” he said.

- Adam Lanza’s family had kept a watchful eye on him, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Stumbling out of the gate

Square pegs?

Turn the page?

End game?

He said, she said

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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