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Hurricane Sheila By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 07, 2003


THE GRIEVANCE INDUSTRY PROVIDES WEALTH AND POWER for thousands of people.  Always seeking new causes for complaint, recently one of this industry’s greatest impresarios of indignation, raconteurs of resentment, entrepreneurs of enmity and divas of demand found an amazing new reason to scream “racism!”

African-Americans like herself ought to feel offended, Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Texas) told The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., because hurricanes are given “lily white” names. 

(Among the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official names for tropical storms that hit Texas earlier this year were “Claudette” and “Juan.”  Until 1953, when the U.S. Government adopted the use of alphabetical female names for tropical storms, it had followed the centuries-old tradition of naming these storms for the Catholic saints on whose day they were designated.  In 1978 NOAA began using both male and female names to identify storms, no longer calling every hurricane a “her.”)

“All racial groups should be represented,” said Rep. Lee, adding that she hoped that the weather establishment in future “would try to be inclusive of African American names” such as “Keisha, Jamal and Deshawn.”

Consider those dedicated medical researchers whose highest reward is to have a dread disease they have studied named for them, thereby turning their name into a kind of curse. “Bad news, Mrs. Smith, your mother has Alzheimer’s Disease!” (It was named after German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer, who discovered the disorder in 1906.)

Would somebody named Deshawn really want to turn on the evening news and hear victims cursing the death and destruction caused by “Hurricane Deshawn?”  Have we not been told for years that any expression linking African-Americans or even the color black – as in the words blackout or blackmail – with bad things is inherently racist?  Is Ms. Lee offering America a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t decision whether to give killer storms “black” names?

Presumably calling such a tempest “Tropical Storm Sheila” would not calm Congresswoman Lee’s desire for sufficiently black names.  African-American basketball star Kobe Bryant was named for the Japanese city Kobe, famous for its beef from beer-fed cattle.

The most frequent sources for names in our culture today are the Bible, the Muslim holy book The Koran, and ancient mythologies.  The name John is biblical, Jason is from Greek mythology, and Jamal – a name not actually “black” or “white” – comes from Islamic culture….and may have been the name of the Muslim slave trader who sold Sheila Jackson Lee’s already-enslaved great-great-grandmother to European sailors.

Here’s a better, smarter idea for naming tropical storms. Its inspiration comes from a skit almost a decade ago on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” led by that week’s brilliant African-American comedian guest host Damon Wayans.

In this skit, set at an “African-American day camp,” Wayans and others address the black children by the popular names their parents have given to them.

Among the poetic-sounding “African-American” names of children called out at this camp were Monoxodil and Noxzema, Purina and Frigidaire, Binaca and Mylanta, Lubriderm and Robitussin, Nutrasweet and Gynalotrimen, Duracell and Listerine.

These also happen to be the trademarked brand names of fine products. These product names have gained a memorable place inside our heads in part because millions of dollars have been spent to advertise them. Without such ad-induced recognition, in fact, the screamingly funny Damon Wayans skit would have elicited few laughs.

Congresswoman Lee wants hurricanes named politically, to advance her Politically Correct passions and desire for ire, instead of randomly as they have been by NOAA bureaucrats.

But instead, why not sell the naming rights to hurricanes to the highest bidder? As a source of government revenue, we have done this already with football bowl games, sports stadiums and a growing list of other things.  The State of Massachusetts has been trying to sell naming rights to its public parks and forests.

In a world where a slogan among promoters is “It doesn’t matter what they say about me, just so they spell my name right,” surely sponsors could be found willing to pay big bucks to get the immense publicity and news coverage of having their brand name on a hurricane.

“Thousands of quivering people are evacuating Miami,” Dan Rather would tell his viewers, “at the approach of Hurricane Jell-O.” 

Or it might be “Hurricane J-Lo,” if movie star Jennifer Lopez puts in the biggest bid for the naming rights to this powerful storm.  It could become a commercial art form, like thoroughbred horse investing, to buy rights early and cheap to unpromising “Seabiscuit” storms that, with luck, might grow into a long-lived hurricane generating weeks of headline news coverage. Think of all the private meteorologists and cloud seeders who might be hired to select, enhance or even create such storms.

Heck, the Federal Government also could raise millions via a lottery, the winner of which would have the year’s first hurricane named after him- or herself, a hot storm track to that winner’s 15 minutes of national fame.

We already name “temporary” (geologically speaking) natural phenomena such as mountains, lakes and rivers after real people.  Why not do likewise for shorter-lived phenomena such as tropical storms?  And why not let commerce trump politics by letting such names be chosen by the highest bidder, not by some politician or bureaucrat? 

An angry millionaire out there right now might be willing to put a fortune into the public treasury in exchange for pinning his ex-wife’s first name on a nasty storm, thereby prompting the media to do a story about the person behind this name.  Some widow might want to put her granddaughter or late husband into the scientific history books of our planet by doing likewise.

But Congresswoman Lee would doubtless find grievance in this, too, even as she proposes new ways to spend every penny of revenue it puts in government coffers.  How unfair, she might say, that the rich can afford to name hurricanes and the poor cannot. Some political redistribution of the power to name things must be imposed by force of law!

Despite such attempts to seize the symbols of our society, the standard by which hurricane names get chosen should be neither white nor black – but green.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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