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The Artist Abroad

Outlaws and typhoons

NEW YORK, New York —Anews item recently got my attention. Apparently, in a study of the deadly effects of hurricanes (or typhoons), a group of researchers observed that, in the United States at least, there were more fatalities and more destruction wrought when the hurricane/typhoon had been christened with a female name.

Why was this? The researchers’ hypothesis was that those living within the area to be struck by the horrific act of nature didn’t think the typhoon would be as terrible as it would have been had it had a male name, and thus they took fewer precautions than they normally would have. Were the scientists perhaps having a private joke premised on the saying that hell hath no fury like a woman (and typhoon) scorned?

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I doubt that such theorizing holds any water, no pun intended. In the Philippines, at least, afflicted as we are by an average of 20 typhoons a year, folks take such natural disasters seriously, but as was shown in the case of Hurricane Haiyan/Typhoon Yolanda, the devastation was nevertheless extraordinary. By the way, the typhoons that plague our archipelago are usually named after women.

 

But while a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, it might be time to rethink this whole business of naming typhoons. If the intent is to make the inhabitants of the endangered area extra alert to the very real dangers of the impending fury, then I suggest the typhoons be named after historical figures or events that have caused misery and degradation in peoples’ lives.

I’m for instance pretty confident that the residents of Ukraine who harbor deep suspicions about their giant neighbor would batten down the hatches and store enough food and water were a storm or blizzard coming their way be named Typhoon Putin. Or perhaps Hurricane Stalin. Such a typhoon would not only wreak havoc, but also force those afflicted to speak Russian and pay obeisance to Moscow. For the rest of Europe an excellent name would be Typhoon Fuhrer.

In China, this being the 25th anniversary of the bloodbath in Beijing, an appropriate moniker for a typhoon about to hit the capital of the People’s Republic would, of course be, Typhoon Tiananmen. Or Hurricane Deng. Students and other freethinking individuals in particular would be alerted to the possibility that their lives above all others would be in grave danger. Such a typhoon would not only take lives, but also erase history.

Here in the land of the free, how about naming the next hurricane Hurricane NSA? Its gale winds would suck all your privacy away, and lay bare every intimate detail in your life. It’s the kind of hurricane that would leave you naked even as you remained standing. And its reach of course would be global, blowing through the world’s capitals in countries as diverse as Germany and Brazil.

In the case of our archipelago we have more than enough real-life figures and events to provide a trove of names. In hindsight a better name for Yolanda would have been Imelda. Or, better still, Imeldinand. Don’t you think that Typhoon Imeldinand has just the right ring to it? And that appellation would certainly have roused the ordinary folks (at least, one would hope so) to hyper alertness. And who can argue against the parallels between the calamitous force of nature that was Yolanda and the untrammeled greed of the conjugal dictatorship? Both flattened the local industries, made a poor nation even poorer and forced people to seek better lives elsewhere.

Think of it: The government agency tasked with renaming storms (is that PAGASA?) for the local area to be directly hit would have a steady supply of names—names of both men and women who have cast shadows and worse on the lives of Filipinos. Typhoon Erap? Gloria? Typhoon Pork Barrel? How about Typhoon Trapo, as a reminder of all those who have served (though whom they served is a matter of debate) as legislators and made some of their constituents enormously rich, themselves included, in the bargain? So a typhoon about to hit the coconut-rich region of the Bicol provinces could be tagged Typhoon Johnny or Typhoon Danding. You’ll have small-scale coconut farmers running for their lives.

Once, decades ago, a lawmaker, frustrated by the frequency with which our islands were visited by these storms, proposed outlawing them. He had the right intent and perhaps a dry wit, but he had it in reverse. It isn’t so much that typhoons are outlaws, it’s that the outlaws in our midst are typhoons—and among the worst ever, beside which a Yolanda would pale.

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Copyright L.H. Francia 2014

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TAGS: Haiyan, Hurricanes, NSA, Pagasa, storm names, typhoons, Yolanda
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