I'm originally from the Midwest, and let me tell you: everything you've ever heard about flyover country, every derisive stereotype you've ever had, is absolutely, 100% true. It is truly a barren, joyless place; a place with none of the proximity to government and media, supermodels, and random encounters with celebrities that alone make life worth living. Because of this people in the middle of the country, unlike those on the coasts, have nothing to talk about; no government intrigue; no Paris Hilton; no fashion week; no Soho House shenanigans; nothing. They are therefore forced to pass the time talking about sports and the weather, subjects which occupy approximately 95% of any local newscast from Columbus to Des Moines.
I find some sports interesting, some less so, but it's a universally accepted truism that there is no subject so dull as the weather. Living in a modern society in which less than 1% of the population is engaged in farming why would any contemporary American possibly care about the weather? Tell me what it's going to be like outside today and be done with it. Spare me the occluded fronts, high pressure systems, Alberta Clippers, and Doppler Radar Systems. Yet, as we increasingly gain independence from nature and move closer to the radiant future I've been promised of flying cars and temperature-controlled domed cities, people are becoming increasingly obsessed with the minutiae of weather, even weather very far away from them that couldn't possibly have any bearing on their lives. While this may be understandable in the Midwest as the population needs some way to fill the meaningless hours as they make their slow march towards death, why would anyone possibly care about this stuff here out east where we actually have things to do?
It is understandable perhaps on the part of the weather reporters themselves, who have meaningless, boring jobs, to want to imbue their empty profession with some sense of glamour or importance. But why would the citizenry possibly care, and especially why would webloggers, who are supposedly more engaged citizens who think about the more important stuff, care? What about the two Danny Pearl books that came out this week and the possibility that he was on the trail of Islamists trying to get a nuclear bomb from Pakistani ISI? What are we gonna do about Arafat? What about this week's episode of Reno 911? Instead, the biggest topic this week has been "Category 3" (or is it category 2 or 1 or 0?) "hurricane" (or is it tropical storm?) Isabel.
Which brings me to my other point: At this point I no longer believe in hurricanes, or at the very least I think Big Weather calls what are actually minor windstorms "hurricanes" in order to drive up ratings and duct tape sales. (If you don't believe Big Weather and Big Duct Tape are in bed together, you haven't been paying attention). We have a similar phenomenon in the Midwest called "tornadoes". Much like UFO's they are only ever observed by the denizens of trailer parks, so again much like UFO's no one can actually verify whether they exist or not.
As for the "hurricane" which shut down mass transportation and the federal government in Washington DC, I spoke to my friend Rex Stetson in Northeast DC at about 10:30 last night. He said that it was a little bit windy and not raining at all. He was standing outside without a jacket or umbrella. Here is the report from Andrew Sullivan who I beieve also lives in Northeast:
AREA MAN: And beagle went for a walk at the height of the storm. No rain; barely any wind. The boyfriend and I went over and back to a friend's to watch bad TV. No rain; barely any wind. This was a hurricane? I guess I was really lucky.
As Gregg Easterbrook writes: CATEGORY 2 STORM, CATEGORY 5 HYPE. Farther down in the same post he says: "The media is so disaster-hype-prone at the moment--partly because disaster predictions keep the ever-larger demographic of senior citizens glued to the tube-- . . ." It's understandable that old people who, like Midwesterners, are cut off from most of the things that make life worth living, would be interested in this kind of hysterical weather coverage, but why would the supposedly young, savvy demographic of bloggers care?
One thing I can say for Midwesterners is that despite the fact that they are addicted to hysterical weather coverage, they are pretty tough and stoic when it comes to the actual weather. And, despite the overhyping, the weather there is indeed, like most everything else, horrible. Every winter has multiple weeks of snow piled feet high, roads covered with a sheet of ice, and temperatures of less than 10 below zero farenheit, without wind chill! Here in New York and in DC a couple inches of snow closes everything down for days. And wind? Go to Chicago. (Remember every single stereotype you have about the Midwest is absolutely true). An average day there is windier than a "hurricane" here.
As weather "teams" scoured the east coast trying to find some little bit of disaster and hearbreak in order to justify their being allowed to momentarily crowd out real news they did seem to manage to find a couple of locales somewhere or other like Maryland and Virginia that appeared to be suffering from moderate thunderstorms with somewhat high winds. Presumably, this is the most extreme example of nature's hellish fury that they could find. And, these were places right on the Atlantic ocean. Why this would matter to someone further north or inland is a mystery to me, as is how former fatso and present Fox 5 weatherman Dave Price gets to be on Larry King because of this.
In the past few years we in New York have endured the worst terrorist attack in history, anthrax mailings, the worst blackout in US history, and the smoking ban, and still managed to keep the world economy going and produce great reality TV like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. DC, a city that shuts down because of a pleasant late summer breeze, is probably beyond redemption, but we still have a chance to set a better example for our Midwestern brethren who depend on the products of our labor to brighten up their dreary lives.