He that has a little tiny wit,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
Though the rain it raineth every day.
--Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III, Scene 2
Odd. Usually madmen want to control the weather.
Not so Kim Jong-un. On Tuesday the North Korean leaderpersonally reprimanded his country’s weather service—and its weathermen, who were no doubt shaking in their boots—for a far more pedestrian concern: their inability to predict the weather. He had had it up to here (which, on Kim, is not all that far) with their botched forecasts. (Why do I get the sense Kim forgot his umbrella on Tuesday morning? He certainly sounds like somebody who spent the day with soaked pant legs.)
This being North Korea, we don’t know if those meteorologists are still with us. After all, Kim is a man who had his own uncle killed, not long after rumors that Kim had also executed, then apparently revived, his ex-girlfriend. And in North Korea, predicting low fronts brings with it similarly high stakes.
Talk about pressure: North Korea is a country with a long history of not having nearly enough agriculture production to feed its people, and Kim wants us to believe that unpredictable weather is entirely to blame. (Weather is not to blame. North Korea is experiencing its worst spring drought in three decades, although Pyongyang leadership has starved its citizens for far longer than that.) As a way of passing the buck, surely Kim would think nothing of killing the clouds.
If he could. He can’t. Although he did find that unicorn lair.
Full disclosure: I spent a week in North Korea last year. I stumbled across no unicorns. But it’s stories like these that make North Korea live up to its reputation as the “Hermit Kingdom.” Kim believes his country is somehow hermeneutically sealed, under his sway; surely his scientists should be able to foretell the precise amount of rainfall. But of course no kingdom works that way. Even the dragons on Game of Thrones have to be thinking, “Really?!”
The absurdity of North Korea now extends to its futile attempt to anticipate the whims of Mother Nature. At least King Lear had the good sense merely to rail against the storm and beg it “smite flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!” Not to curse the stage directions and threaten to send the stage manager to a labor camp.
But I don’t take this story as yet another tale of gloom, doom and despotism. No, I choose to see the bright side. The silver lining in those cumulus clouds. Of all the stark reminders about the difference between North Korea and the United States, this one brings the most unexpected glimmer of sunshine. Because I choose to take it as yet another reason why I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free … to foul up completely.
In America, we reserve our God-given right to be god-awful wrong. Our weathermen, ourselves.
When we mess up, we apologize like Seth Rogen. When we fail, the worst that happens to us is that we’re not longer Majority Leader. When we fall from grace, there may be a reality show in it for us.
Consider the United States’ most famous weather prognosticator. No, not Al Roker. I’m speaking, of course, of Punxsutawny Phil, the all-American groundhog who predicts not merely the daily forecast, but an entire season.
What’s so reassuring about Phil? First off, he either sees his shadow, or he doesn’t. There’s no fancy-schmancy Doppler 2000 involved. It’s just a binary thing. Every February 2nd, he confronts his shadow—really quite an existential moment for a groundhog—and announces whether we’ll have six more weeks of winter. And here’s the best part: even though his forecast is a 50-50 proposition, he gets it right only 39 percent of the time.He’d do better if he flipped a coin. (That is, if he could flip a coin.)
He has a parade in his honor. He has his own holiday. And he’s wrong more than six times out of ten.
Let’s be honest: if North Korea had a weather-predicting groundhog, we’d be worried not only for its track record, but for its life. Phil is terrible at the only job he has. As are so many of us.What could be more American than that?