Thursday 11 October 2012

gimme shelter! can umbrella etiquette predict the US presidential election?

Many articles have been written about the importance of proper umbrella etiquette on busy city streets.

A quick read of any of these pieces shows that good umbrella etiquette is almost entirely based on common sense and thoughtfulness—which (unsurprisingly) means that on every wet day, legions of invariably dry nitwits continue to flaunt these rules.

What motivates these people? Ignorance is surely a factor. Sit in a café and watch any busy street on a wet morning, and you will see flocks of charming gentlemen with umbrellas the size of radiotelescopes mercilessly putting out eyes faster than a Quentin Tarantino heroine. Not surprisingly, the angry glare of injured strangers seems to slide off these people like water off a dick's back.

But I feel there are deeper factors at work than just mere ignorance when umbrella etiquette is breached. Indeed, I believe the way in which a umbrella-toting person acts on a rainy day can deliver deep insight into that person's politics, beliefs, and soul.  Let's examine one particular rule of etiquette.

Pictured above is a standard city street. I (and most other umbrella etiquette scholars) believe that whilst it is raining, those who have umbrellas must avoid walking under sheltered areas; this is space that should be reserved for those without umbrellas. Generally, this means that umbrella-holders should walk closest to the road, leaving those without (let's call them the "none-brellas") the space to walk in the sheltered area created by the overhanging buildings.

The umbrella-holders thus make a small sacrifice (by exposing themselves to splashes from street puddles and sideways rain, among other things) so that the none-brellas may remain as dry as possible.  This is done without inquiry into the circumstances of the none-brellas—they are provided with shelter whether they have forgot their umbrella, can't afford an umbrella, don't have proper access to umbrellas, or are culturally disadvantaged in regard to umbrellas.

Could it be that these kind individuals who choose to make this sacrifice are also more likely to believe in other forms of social welfare?  Take the example of universal healthcare, where, analogously, a small sacrifice is made so that those in a less fortunate position can be taken care of by society.  Might the tendency to give up sheltered walking space when carrying an umbrella correlate with a belief that society should take care of those who, for whatever reason, find themselves under the weather?  In an American context, might those who follow the above rule of umbrella etiquette be more likely to vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming election?

Let's think about the opposing mentality in our rainy day scenario—he who carries an umbrella but does not move an inch to allow those without umbrellas the benefits of shelter.  "Why should I move?", asks our hypothetical antagonist as the sides of his umbrella gratingly scrape against the nearest building, sending none-brellas haplessly scrambling into the pouring rain—"I paid for this umbrella, I carry this umbrella, and so I shall reap the benefits of this umbrella as I please!"  He cannot see what all this etiquette fuss is about.  If others don't want to get wet, they too should buy and carry umbrellas, as it is not the duty of the prepared to look after the unprepared.

To this man, allowing shelter to none-brellas is just a step away from universal health care, which is just a step away from communism, which is just a step away from godlessness, which is just a step away from gay marriage, which is just a step away from waking up in a Las Vegas hotel room in a (legally) drug-induced stupor having (legally) married three Labradoodles.  His vote goes to the Republicans.

Pictured above is a map from CNN predicting the US presidential election.  Looking at the above map, I imagine that a visitor to Seattle could cross the city sans-umbrella on even the wettest of days without encountering a single drop of rain; they will find ample shelter made for them wherever they stroll by liberally-minded locals.

Conversely, residents of the Republican stronghold of Spicewood, Texas, should think themselves lucky that it hasn't rained very much lately.  I imagine navigating Spicewood's main street during a storm would produce tense Mexican standoffs worthy of Clint Eastwood's finest spaghetti westerns.  Indeed, rumour has it that one local gentleman, being fiercely determined not to divert from a straight line when carrying his umbrella, installed a gatling gun system into the spokes of his umbrella whereby the 'brolly fires lethal rounds as the holder rotates it.

The election forecasters are going about their jobs all wrong.  Rather than polling prospective voters, pundits should simply observe the umbrella-carrying habits of those living in "swing" states to accurately forecast the upcoming election—a bell-weather of the future, if you will. 

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