Back when TV dominated media, I argued that it could only be a democratic medium if everyone had their own channel. Not just one corporate voice, but many diverse voices, could speak. While we’re still nowhere near attaining this utopian TV democracy, YouTube has moved us light years closer. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can have their own channel. This supposed technotopia reminds me of an observation Henry David Thoreau made in 1854, writing “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” This brings me to the two inches of snow that last week crippled metropolitan Atlanta.
Put down your Bud Light grab some snow
While comedians are having a field day with the fact that a mere two inches of snow can cripple the South’s premier city, the denizens of YouTube have another take. The snow, it seems, ain’t real. According to a megatrending social media meme, much of the country is being doused with some sort of fake plastic chemical snow cooked up in a massive big gubmint conspiracy to, er, um . . . make fake plastic chemical snow. The airlines, of course, are in on it. And so am I. The airlines are allowing d’gubmint to use their plans to spread chemical jet trails, or “chemtrails,” which in this case, become plastic snow. And I’m in on it too, for my part, besmirching our patriotic YouTube scientists who broke the story.
The experiment goes like this. You put down your Bud Light and go out and grab some snow. Make a snowball. Then place a rudimentary dirty burning cigarette lighter under the tainted ball and watch it turn black from soot while you sniff the delicate bouquet of poorly combusted butane. Voila. The soot and smell is proof positive that the snowball is plastic – probably an Obama plan to ruin the south. Those of us who were in the seventh grade did the same experiment, but with a Bunsen burner, as our teachers demonstrated “sublime sublimation,” the physical principle of how frozen water evaporates, or in laymen terms, how the snowpack matures.
This year’s snow sublimation videos no doubt began, as they always do, as a joke. But unlike past years, they coincided with a big two inch southern snowstorm and, well, went viral. While there’s always been theatrical snow for sale at craft shops, Internet searches for “fake snow” and “plastic snow” now yield 150-181 million links. Many point to news sites other than The Onion and The Daily Show, who actually felt a need to debunk the plastic snow “theories,” making this one of the biggest outbreaks of “fucking moron syndrome” (FMS) since the Republican presidential primaries.
Bolshevik snow plows
But if it wasn’t a big gubmint super slippery engineered snowslime conspiracy that crippled Atlanta, how do we explain how two inches of snow created so much deadly havoc, with thousands of people stranded overnight in their cars, in schools and in shelters? Comedians are having a field day with this story, essentially invoking an overlay of FMS over already existing stereotypes pompous northern bigots already hold about southerners. But really, any event that spawns hundreds of auto accidents isn’t funny. And apparently, is real, and is more complex than everyone in Atlanta supposedly being a moron – which really is a theory that’s about as believable as the big gubmint fake snow conspiracy. So what happened?
In the past I’ve written about “the socialism of snow plowing,” how “shrink government until it fits in your pocket” libertarians and Republicans are racing to defund all government services, including those that keep us healthy and alive – like plowing snow, treating sewage, etc. Georgia is one of those Republican success stories. And that success played out last week with Georgia’s roads nearly free of those damned Bolshevik snow plows and salting machines. Of course why would Atlanta have snowplows? This was a freak storm. Right?
It turns out that while unusual, snow in Atlanta is not all that unlikely. According to the National Weather Service, the average low temperature in Atlanta for this time of year is 35 degrees, with precipitation averaging 11 days a month. Atlanta is not Cancun. Weather records from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport indicate that there is a seven percent chance of snow on any given day this time of year in Atlanta. Two or, in all fairness, maybe almost three inches of snow is more than normal, but not unlikely over a period of years.
The stingy rich & an angry god
In what the stingy rich decry as “high tax” states, such as New York, we pay high taxes specifically to fund preparedness for whatever exigencies are statistically possible. We can go years without a heavy snowfall, but when one comes, and they inevitably do, our lives won’t be at risk. Georgia made a political decision not to be ready. It’s that simple. The National Weather Service, the Atlanta-based Weather Channel and a host of other reporting agencies all predicted a relatively heavy (by Atlanta standards) snow event – and they predicted it with at least a day’s warning. Yet, despite this warning, Atlanta did not treat their roads with salt or sand, allowing black ice to form and cause road-clogging (not to mentions life threatening) accidents.
They did not treat their roads because they could not treat their roads – because they never bought the equipment to do so, because they never taxed themselves to pay for the equipment. The problem in Atlanta is of a political rather than a meteorological nature. They made the decision not to be prepared for a predictable event because, like small children with undeveloped minds, their leaders could not link cause, in this case pathological greed, with a predictable event – having a dusting of snow cripple your city. But there was a plan. The sun would come out and melt the snow. Seriously, that’s their low rent snow emergency plan. Wait for a sunny day.
Maybe I’m being too hard on Atlanta. Maybe it was a gubmint conspiracy all along to support the socialism of snowplowing. Watch out for that Domino effect. Snowplows today, free clinics and universities tomorrow. Hell, the evidence supporting plastic snow theory is no less sound than the global warming denial “science” touted daily in the right wing media universe. Or maybe, and I’ll take a page from the Bible Belt rulebook, the Atlanta snow chaos was the wrath of an angry God pissed off at Georgia’s executions of seemingly innocent people such as Troy Davis. Or maybe it’s God punishing Georgia for not recognizing religiously sanctioned marriages of Gay folks. Maybe it’s Georgia’s renewed efforts to repress voting. We can go on and on here, but I’m not one to invoke a supposedly angry God to excuse my own sociopathic transgressions.
Back on earth, global warming is changing the global weather map, disturbing delicate balances that supported temperate and predictable climates during the period that human civilizations developed. As the climate changes, more cities are going to have to prepare for new and different weather, such as the historically unprecedented storm surge that put parts of New York City underwater during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 or the record breaking drought that’s scorching California now. Put simply, while Atlanta’s unusual two inch snow is within historical range, other cities, including Atlanta, will be experiencing new weather threats that will fall outside of the range of historical norms. Getting ready for them involves things like building levies to protect subways and neighborhoods.
Preparing for these predictable weather events is going to be expensive, meaning the new climate will dictate an increased reliance on the public sector to do what we as individuals cannot – such as salt the highways in Atlanta. If we don’t reprioritize our spending from private luxuries to public necessities, there will be many more, and much more serious, cases of Atlanta Syndrome – not being prepared for the predictable.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.
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