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Clockwise from top left: The New York City flag, the Pittsburgh flag, the Denver flag, and the St. Petersburg, Fla., flag.

Vexillology is the study of flags — their history, symbolism and use — and people like me who love flags (in a not-at-all nerdy way) are vexillophiles. This distinguishes us hobbyists from the people who actually design flags, who are vexillographers.

Background: A relatively modern science, the term "vexillology" was coined in the late 1950s by the grandfather of the field, Whitney Smith. A vexillology prodigy, he designed the national flag of Guyana while still a Harvard undergrad.

The intrigue: Just as nations and states have flags, so do well over 100 U.S. cities. In 2004, NAVA conducted an internet survey (now slightly outdated) in which respondents were asked to rate 150 U.S. city flags, assessing their design and overall flagworthiness.

  • The results: The top three city flags were flown in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Denver (see above, bottom right).
  • The bottom-ranked flag was that of Pocatello, Idaho, which took such grief for its flag design that it selected a new one in 2017.
  • While some city flags have changed since 2004, you can check out what your city's standard looks like (or looked like) and its ranking in the survey here.

The bottom line: Smith's NYT 2016 obit includes a quote from an interview he did with Smithsonian Magazine: “Flags express the unity and identity of one group as against all others,” he said. “That can be ugly — Hitler’s swastika flag embodied the dark side of vexillologic symbolism. But flags also can allow frail humans to feel bolstered by higher powers.”

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Oct 16, 2020 - Economy & Business

Billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith's tax fraud roils Vista Equity

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Robert Smith's admission to tax fraud has done more than just cost him a whopping $140 million. It's also roiled Vista Equity Partners, the private equity firm he founded and leads, with some insiders and limited partners feeling they were misled (or left in the dark) about the extent of Smith's legal troubles.

Behind the scenes: Smith called a virtual meeting of Vista's managing directors and other top staffers on Wednesday, to discuss details of his settlement. A source says he called the overall experience "humbling" and that he regretted the "undue burden" that his actions had put on others, including some Vista colleagues.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Anthony Coley to lead Justice Department public affairs

Photo: Xinhua/Ting Shen via Getty Images

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s nominee for attorney general, has tapped Anthony Coley, an Obama-era Treasury Department official, to serve as a senior adviser and to lead public affairs at the Department of Justice, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: As the public face of the DOJ, Coley will help explain — and defend — the department's actions, from sensitive cases to prosecutorial decisions, including the investigation into Hunter Biden.