Hell hath no fury like a Minnesotan scorned.
I learned that the hard way this week after I published a map ranking America's counties by scenery and climate using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA's index of so-called natural amenities is weighted heavily toward physical characteristics -- mild, sunny winters, low humidity, topographic variety -- that the North Star State isn't exactly known for. So Minnesota came off looking not great, and the state's Red Lake County earned the absolute lowest score in the nation.
The reaction from outraged Minnesotans on social media came fast and furious. The story went up online Monday at 9:27 a.m. By 9:42, indignant Minnesotan Matt Privratsky launched the opening salvo of what would turn into a sustained assault on the index's methodology:
As someone who grew up in the heart of "ugly country" on this map, I hereby declare this map garbage. https://t.co/wlOYnvYgcY
— Matt Privratsky (@mattprivratsky) August 17, 2015
I was publicly shamed.
I was forced to Google "farkakte."
Red Lake, MN the worst and most of MN ugly?? This is farkakte. https://t.co/peNnSlwl2B
— R. Stassen-Berger (@RachelSB) August 17, 2015
Soon, the denizens of self-proclaimed "Indignant Minnesota Twitter" started sending photos and testimonials to refute the notion that Minnesota is somehow lacking in beauty of natural amenities.
— Michael Baker (@MBaker_MN) August 18, 2015
Some started a hashtag, #ShowMeYourUglyCounties, to showcase Minnesota's beauty.
— Christine (@Chrissytron5000) August 18, 2015
A U.S. Senator from Minnesota joined the pile-on.
— Al Franken (@alfranken) August 18, 2015
Now, here's the interesting part. Minnesota wasn't the only state that doesn't look great according to the USDA's natural amenities scale. Iowa and Delaware don't have any counties ranking at average beauty or above. A number of states -- North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin among them -- have just one or two counties of at least average beauty.
But I didn't hear a single word of protest from folks in these states. No sarcastic Delaware hashtags. No photo tributes to the natural splendor of Indiana. No petitions from outraged North Dakotans. Only Minnesotans have taken a public stand to defend their state's honor. Why? I asked some of the folks I'd heard from what the deal was.
Seems plausible enough. I reached out to Matt Privratsky, one of the original indignant Minnesotans, to see what he thought. Matt told me over e-mail that "Minnesota does have a truly unique landscape -- from the plains in the southwest up to the lakes and forests in central and northern Minnesota all the way up the iron range in the northeast." He added, "Minnesotans are known for being very humble and even reserved, but as this reaction shows we're also very proud of our state - especially when in competition with those around us." That much is clear.
Asked to expand upon his own tweet, Sen. Al Franken echoed some of those same themes. "The uproar against the Washington Post’s recent reporting is well-deserved,” he said in an e-mailed statement. "Minnesota is a beautiful state. Maybe even the most beautiful state — from the bluffs that surround Winona, to the Mighty Mississippi cutting through the Twin Cities, and all the way up to the rivers and lush greenery in the indisputably gorgeous Red Lake County. I humbly request that you correct the record."
Fair enough. So if Red Lake County isn't the least-beautiful place in the nation, what actually is? I posed this question to Privratsky. "I wouldn't be doing my job as a born and bred Minnesotan if I didn't tell people to avoid Wisconsin," he said.
Franken was more pointed in his response. "A survey taken in the Franken office determined that the least desirable place to live in the country is actually inside the Washington Post's headquarters," he said.