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Vote in your pajamas in sunny Catalunya

For the past few months, a cynical observer might think, Washington has carried out a long piece of performance art detailing the many ways in which passing legislation is hard, even with the White House and Congress in one party's hands. There are holds, filibusters, floor motions, cloture, and sundry other rules. The Senate is a small-c conservative institution, delimited from making radical change in a thousand ways.

The biggest obstacle of all is the ticking clock. Every motion takes up floor time. There is only so much floor time. And, when it snows in Washington, there is less. Indeed, the Senate was briefly open for business today. But it won't be tomorrow or, probably, the next day, many thanks to Snowpocalypse 3. Senators need to be present to vote. They won't be, so the whole government apparatus will be shut down.

This got me to thinking: Do really inclement countries let their legislatures vote remotely?

The answer in the United States is no -- though it has been proposed before.  The first country I thought of was Estonia, which has the most tech-savvy government on the planet and, I imagine, rather nasty winters. There, you can cast your national electoral ballot from the comfort of your living room sofa, over the Internet. (There are actually a number of countries and localities that allow this.) But, it seems, members of parliament need to be present to give the up or down on legislation.

I only found one government that allows remote legislative voting -- in, of all places, sunny Catalunya, Spain. In that region, which includes Barcelona, local representatives can request permission to send in their vote from home if they need to tend to a sick family member, for instance. No details on whether they also do it if hit with 22 inches of white stuff.

Sunny Spanish countryside by Flickr user laura padgett

Passport

Weather: the lowest form of news

Here in D.C. this week, the big topic of conversation this week isn't health-care reform, terrorism policy, or even Sarah Palin. It's the fact that -- heavens to Betsy -- it's snowing!

Yes, the snowpocalypse/snowmageddon/snOMG/Snowtorious B.I.G./snowverkill is upon us, and in addition to government shutdowns and armed confrontations between snowball-fighting tweeters and the D.C. police, it also means the paper is full of weather stories!

I could just be bitter, having once spent a sweltering Jersey City afternoon pounding the pavement to ask pedestrians how they felt about it being so hot, but I've always had a thing against weather news. It generally tends to be somewhat less useful than panda news and less entertaining than commodities prices.

I don't mean to suggest that the snow isn't a big deal, particularly in a city as unprepared for it as this one. I just don't think there's that much to say. There are very few things readers need to know about a coming snowstorm: When is it going to start? How many inches? What's going to be closed?

This 1,400-word Washington Post feature, on the other hand, is a bit of stretch, packed with such informative insights from local officials as, "We will have to watch and monitor what [the weather] does Tuesday night and Wednesday morning." 

As if that weren't enough, there's an entire page packed with additional data, live-blogging and user-generated content. As I write this, the headline reads, "Snow has just begun to fall," helpfully confirming the data I just gathered from looking out the window.

I don't mean to knock our parent company too much. Pretty much every media outlet devotes a vastly excessive amount of time to delivering weather information that anyone with an Internet connection can get in about three seconds without the histrionics. I would hope that TV networks, radio stations, and newspapers have just vastly overestimated the amount of interest people have in hearing weather. After all, everyone knows what happens when it snows: it's cold and wet and inconvenient but we all generally get through it eventually. But maybe I'm an outlier and people really do have an insatiable appetite for precipitation information. 

When people talk to each other about the weather it's generally because they're just being polite and have nothing more interesting to discuss. What's the excuse for weather news?

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images