Digital World: The politics of weather

By DAVID SHAMAH
June 1, 2010 12:32

Yahoo’s politicized weather is the default forecast application for iPhones and iPod Touch devices.

4 minute read.



Yahoo office in Haifa

Yahoo office in Haifa 311. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

TV shows come and go, but the one “series” that has true staying power is the nightly news. While even the most successful TV programs have a finite life span, the one program you can count on always being there is your local news. And there’s good reason for that: Each day, the news has high drama, love and hate, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat – and the weather.

That’s the part that concerns us today. For many people, the weather is the most important part of the news. Notice how TV stations, even here in Israel, build a cult of celebrity around their weather presenters. The weather person is expected to have a bubbly personality, an ability to josh and banter, a nice, big smile – and the capacity to completely ignore the rest of the news, no matter how bad it is.

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In other words, the weather exists in its own little bubble – unaffected by politics or world events. The same rule should apply on the Internet, too. But unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the folks at Yahoo that you’re supposed to keep politics out of the weather forecast.

And while we wouldn’t venture to argue with professional weather forecasters about troughs, inversions and cold fronts, we do have some thoughts on the inappropriateness of dividing Jerusalem – not just the city, but the weather forecast. And, to add insult to Yahoo’s injury, even the part of Jerusalem that one would expect to be part of Israel – isn’t!

Hard to believe, but true. If you search for Jerusalem on the Yahoo weather pages, you get two choices: “Jerusalem, Yerushalayim” and “Jerusalem, West Bank.” Not a word about “Israel,” where the city, of course, is really located!

That this differentiation is strictly political is evident from the contents of the pages. The weather forecasts for both Jerusalems are identical – as one would expect. Meaning that there’s no reason – other than making a political statement – to have two separate pages. I can understand making a political statement, but via the weather? Two words come to mind: “petty” and “ridiculous.”

To be fair, I should point out that the “Jerusalem, Yerushalayim” entry is listed under “IL,” the international abbreviation for Israel. And where is “Jerusalem, West Bank” located? In PS, which one assumes to be the international abbreviation for “Palestine,” an entity that does not legally exist. Whether one likes it or not, the only legal entities in the areas beyond the Green Line are the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, as stipulated in the Oslo Accords.

Strangely, Yahoo isn’t even consistent with its politics. Both Jerusalem pages list the nearest weather station as being in “Jerusalem, Israel.” Wait, I’m confused; I thought it was “Jerusalem, Yerushalayim.” Does this mean there’s a third Jerusalem, the one with the weather station located in Israel?

And those so inclined should not rejoice that Yahoo’s “PS” seems to be a tacit recognition of “Palestine,” a political entity that, for now at least, does not exist at all. According to the category menu, “Jerusalem, West Bank” is located in the “Palestinian Occupied Territories” – another legal fiction, and certainly a step down from “PS.” The inconsistencies just make Yahoo look all the more foolish.

Unfortunately, the problem goes beyond Yahoo. It turns out that Yahoo’s politicized weather is the default forecast application for iPhones and iPod Touch devices. (Although I haven’t had the opportunity to check on iPads, I would imagine that the same application is used.) So, if you use an iPhone, as so many people do, you’re stuck with Yahoo’s silly, artificial – and foolishly inconsistent (they can’t even make up their minds) – weather pages.

Perhaps even more interestingly, the professional weather service that provides Yahoo with the forecasts – The Weather Channel – knows better than to play politics. On their site, and on their cellphone applications, Jerusalem – one, single united city – shows up in Israel; there are no political choices here.

The Weather Channel itself is actually somewhat right-wing in its weather views, but not “radically” so; you can get the weather for Ariel, Israel, as well as Ramallah, West Bank. At least it makes sense. So it’s clear at whom the finger of blame points for the two Jerusalems: at Yahoo, and Yahoo alone.

Most other weather sites give readers what they came for, without any political baggage. Accuweather lists Jerusalem, Israel (no Ariel, though); so does AOL Weather and Weather.org, home of the “Weather Underground.” Even the BBC – a news organization we might expect to take as left a view of the Middle East conflict as possible – avoids this problem by eliminating country names altogether for many places, not just in Israel. (I couldn’t figure out the pattern, but it doesn’t appear to be political.) So Jerusalem is just that: a stateless city, but a single stateless city. I suppose it’s the best we could expect from them.

Which brings us back to Yahoo. Out of all the major weather sites, Yahoo – and it’s adopted son, the iPhone – is the only one that makes political hay out of the weather forecast. Clearly, the staff at Yahoo needs to be reeducated on a couple of points: the political situation in the Middle East, the legal status of the entities in question, the meaning of the word “consistency” – and the inappropriateness of ruining the one part of the news everyone can enjoy without the headaches of politics butting in.

Perhaps a few well-placed letters to the Yahoo folks to help them realize the error of their ways may help?

digital.newzgeek.com


My thanks to Rabbi Martin van den Bergh of Beit Shemesh for tipping me off about this.


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