Strictly speaking, the vortex is not the Ether but rather the entrance to the Ether. The precise nature of the Ether itself is unknown because all attempts to observe it directly have failed. The catastrophic failure of the Farsight Probe mission resulted in the passage of the P.E.S.T. Act which made further scientific inquiry into the nature of the Ether punishable by death.
Properties of the Vortex
While little is known about the Ether itself, a great deal of information has been collected about the vortex. The anomaly is easily visible to the naked eye from a distance of one hundred kilometers. Its appearance is that of a blue-and-black whirlpool rotating clockwise around a brilliantly-shining white center.
The Vortex exerts an upward pull on all objects below it in a cone extending 45 degrees in all directions. This upward pull is actually the result of the Vortex's own gravitational field which is approximately one-sixth as strong as that of the Earth (coincidentally, the same gravitational force as Earth's moon Luna). This gravitational pull creates a gentle but steady breeze that blows toward the center of the city from all directions; a phenomenon which has given rise to the phrase "The wind always blows, but Spokane always sucks."
Some theologians have pointed to the mention of winds in The Bretton Extract as evidence that the arrival of the Vortex is an event previously foretold. They claim that the Bretton text's imperative to "take the hand of God and walk with him through" is evidence that the Vortex is actually a gateway to the realm of Heaven.
The presence of the Vortex over Spokane has produced a significant tourist industry around the city. Products like "Vortex Hot Sauce" and "EtherBurgers" sell well both locally and in mail-order. Hot-air balloon rides were suspended after three tourists and a balloon operator were pulled into the Vortex and vanished, to the surprise of absolutely no one.
Waste Disposal Initiative
Several global waste-management corporations are bidding for the rights to use the Vortex as a massive disposal system for everything from household garbage and appliances to nuclear waste and the world's remaining stockpile of chemical weapons. Several court cases are currently winding their way through the legal system as opponents and advocates spar over the morality and legality of using the Vortex in such a way without knowing where the waste would actually be going. Several proponents of using the Vortex as a global garbage disposal cite the doctrine of Accumulation Theory as a rationale for granting the world access to the seemingly infinite containment of the Ether.