Columns, Photos

Sometimes a Rose is Just a Rose

Why does it seem whenever there’s an extreme weather event or natural phenomena that evangelical right wingers fly into a tizzy and start hollering about how it’s God’s punishment for something they don’t agree with?

Seriously, who can forget the numerous claims that Hurricane Katrina was God’s retribution against the sodomites and licentiousness of New Orleans?  Seems America’s abortion policy was to blame too.  Haitians, according to televangelist Pat Robertson, brought the earthquake that racked their nation on themselves by making a deal with the Devil during the 1791 slave rebellion in exchange for getting their freedom from France.  Then there was the anti-gay activist who made headlines earlier this year by blaming all those unexplained bird deaths on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

So when Hurricane Irene threatened, I knew it would merely be a matter of time until some kook stepped forward to say something outrageous. How could they not? This storm was so irresistibly dangerous, threatening as it did the “Left Coast” of the United States and New York City, less than a week after an earthquake!

Sure enough, Presidential candidate Michelle Bachman, bless her heart, just couldn’t resist.  At a rally in Florida she told supporters that Hurricane Irene and the recent earthquake were God’s way of telling America’s politicians to rein in spending.  Naturally, her spokespeople said it was a little joke to emphasize her commitment to smaller government.

I’m skeptical. After all, Bachman claims God called her to run for Congress and then told her to sponsor a law in Minnesota defining marriage as between one woman and one man.  The girl’s got a pretty good pipeline it seems to the Almighty.

This concept of “divine retribution” is neither new, nor limited to American evangelical conservatives. Minister Louis Farrakhan asserted that Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of punishing the nation for its warmongering and racism. The governor of Tokyo said the deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami were payback for what he termed national egoism.

Seriously, are we still living in the 18th century?

I ask this because I’ve just finished reading a book called Hurricane of Independence about the September 1775 hurricane that crashed into the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia, and then raced up the East Coast in a path very similar to Hurricane Irene, striking all the important colonial capital cities.

People back then had very little understanding of hurricanes. Most attributed big storms to divine Providence. Americans believed in a wrathful God who punished their sins and a merciful God who protected them from their enemies.  So when this hurricane struck on the eve of the Revolution, the American patriots were confused.  Why would God punish them rather than sending a storm against the fleet of British redcoats trying to rob Americans of their liberties?  Could the storm be a divine signal that their cause was not quite as favored as they believed?  Or was it merely a heavenly reminder to live virtuous lives?

Because the hurricane killed both colonists and British, the consensus seemed to shake out that God was indeed on the side of the Americans in their glorious cause for liberty and was punishing the British for their tyranny.  How about that for a rationalization?

I have to wonder what kind of meaning the evangelical right wingers would give to the fact that the wrath of Hurricane Irene seemed to pass Rehoboth by.  We had less wind and rain than expected.  Yes, the beach lost some sand, but the dunes held. At my house, we never lost power.  It blinked a couple of times while I was preparing a pork roast and some patty pan squash, but that’s all. The front porch didn’t even get wet, despite my removing the protective canvas awnings.

And get this, a rose bloomed in my garden during the middle of the hurricane. A pink rose.


Hurricane(s) Irene

I was in Charleston a few weeks ago at a bar called Bootleggers when the topic of hurricane names came up.  The consensus of the group at hand was that Irene, Ophelia, and Phillipe were the best 2011 names for hurricanes.  Little did we know..

This is not the first Hurricane Irene. There was a Tropical Storm Irene in 1959.  Hurricane Irene in 1971 moved from the Atlantic across Central America and into the Pacific.  It was the first time an Atlantic hurricane was officially tracked crossing into the Pacific. Hurricane Irene 1981 started west from the Cape Verde Islands, but curved way to the east and eventually moved over northern France as an extratropical storm.  In 1999, Hurricane Irene made landfall in Cuba and South Florida before emerging into the Atlantic and shading the East Coast all the way up to Newfoundland.  The 2005 edition of Hurricane Irene didn’t come ashore.  It went up the East Coast west of the Carolinas and east of Bermuda before dissipating over the North Atlantic.

The World Meteorological Organization sets the names, which are now “recycled” every six years unless a storm is so bad the name is retired.  Let’s hope this isn’t the end of the line for Hurricane Irene.

Columns, Photos

A Storm Named Earl

As soon as a hurricane watch had been issued for coastal Delaware, I began clearing the decks at work. Meetings were postponed. Deadlines changed. Even Ted Turner’s people were gonna have to wait to discuss a charitable contribution. Earl was coming and I needed to be in Rehoboth.

Hurricanes, for those of you who don’t know, are in my blood. Most families bond around holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. For me and mine, its hurricanes. September and October is our holiday season and my ninety-four year old grandmother is the high holy empress, watching over the tropics, calling with warnings, and spinning tales of hurricanes past. A native Floridian, she has experienced many a hurricane and is mighty proud of the fact that she’s only ever evacuated once. Against her will, of course.

I arrived in town on the Thursday night before Earl was due and found the Blue Moon hopping. It wasn’t a hurricane party per se; most people were there for karaoke. But at least the TVs were tuned to the Weather Channel. There was a hint of excitement in the air and much amusement about this storm named Earl.

For me, the name Earl conjures up an image of a big ol’ bubba who enjoys Garth Brooks music, Bojangles Fried Chicken, and pontoon boats. He owns a countrified yellow dog, the kind you see riding in the back of pickup trucks and on tractors.

A few of the fellas I spoke with in the Moon, however, had other ideas. They thought that Earl could be kind of hot. A former high school jock with big biceps, a big belt buckle, and the beginning of a beer belly. A good-looking, goateed-guy in an Auburn ball cap who likes nothing better than to kick back with a Budweiser and let someone else do all the work.

It was the liquor drawing forth these fantasies. But in any case, there was unanimous agreement that Earl was a name better suited for a Gulf coast hurricane rather than one threatening the Mid-Atlantic, Long Island, and Nantucket. This led naturally into a discussion of who actually names hurricanes. On that note, I ordered another dark rum and tonic and began telling what I knew.

For hundreds of years, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint’s day on which the hurricane occurred. There’s a saint’s day for every day, so this wasn’t as random as one might think initially. Following this practice, Earl would have been named The St. Gregory Hurricane.

In this country, hurricanes were originally referred to by the year or by the place they hit. When meteorology was still new, our weather service wanted a more scientific method by which to track storms, so they began using a cumbersome latitude/longitude designation.

This all started to change during World War II, when Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists began naming Pacific storms after their girlfriends and wives. Made them easier to keep track of. From 1950 to 1952, hurricanes were identified by standard radio names: Able, Baker, Charlie, etc. But, in 1953, the US Weather Bureau switched back to women’s names.

The practice continued until the late 70s when in a politically correct move, the World Meteorological Organization and the US National Weather Service added men’s names. Since then, names and lists have been revised again to include common English, Spanish, and French names – the languages of the Atlantic and Caribbean countries most impacted by hurricanes.

Nowadays, there are six lists of hurricane names that are reused every six years unless a storm creates enough havoc to have its name retired. Think Hugo, Andrew, and Katrina. No names begin with Q, U, X, Y, or Z, and if names are used up in one season, forecasters use letters from the Greek alphabet to name late season storms. A storm is named when it reaches tropical storm strength with winds of 39 mph. A storm becomes a hurricane when its wind speed reaches 75 mph.

So back to Earl. Friday in Rehoboth was gray and somewhat ominous-looking. People all over town nervously watched the sky, looking to the east, waiting for the storm. Despite Weather Channel warnings of tropical force winds and rain, very little happened. There was significant enough surf to close the beaches, but nothing special. Wind? A mere two blocks from the ocean, it was deadly still. Rain? I had to water my garden.

I think its fair to say Earl was a big disappointment. A lazy fella who couldn’t get it up. It happens. But, as we know, there’ll be another coming along – Karl, Matthew, Otto, and – should we get so far – Richard. Rest assured he won’t have that problem.

(Originally published Sept 17 in Letters from Camp Rehoboth)