Kudos to the New York Times…

for its prominent coverage of what may be one of the dumbest controversies of all time.  (When I first read the news over my morning coffee, this article had one of the largest headlines on the paper of record’s main page.)

PHOENIX — The massive dust storms that swept through central Arizona this month have stirred up not just clouds of sand but a debate over what to call them.

The blinding waves of brown particles, the most recent of which hit Phoenix on Monday, are caused by thunderstorms that emit gusts of wind, roiling the desert landscape. Use of the term “haboob,” which is what such storms have long been called in the Middle East, has rubbed some Arizona residents the wrong way.

“I am insulted that local TV news crews are now calling this kind of storm a haboob,” Don Yonts, a resident of Gilbert, Ariz., wrote to The Arizona Republic after a particularly fierce, mile-high dust storm swept through the state on July 5. “How do they think our soldiers feel coming back to Arizona and hearing some Middle Eastern term?”

My main worry is that our soldiers will come back to Arizona and realize that they’re surrounded by total frigging morons.

Diane Robinson of Wickenburg, Ariz., agreed, saying the state’s dust storms are unique and ought to be labeled as such.

“Excuse me, Mr. Weatherman!” she said in a letter to the editor. “Who gave you the right to use the word ‘haboob’ in describing our recent dust storm? While you may think there are similarities, don’t forget that in these parts our dust is mixed with the whoop of the Indian’s dance, the progression of the cattle herd and warning of the rattlesnake as it lifts its head to strike.”

Ms. Robinson went on to list other bits of hackneyed Americana swirling in the Arizona wind, including purple mountain’s majesty, a steaming slab of her mother’s apple pie, and George Washington’s wooden teeth.

Those poor local weathermen, naively thinking they could use a term that smacked of the foreign.  If only they have chosen to call the storms “freedom winds” that kicked up a lot of “liberty dust,” none of this would have happened.  Then the likes of Mr. Yonts and Ms. Robinson could have concerned themselves with more important national issues, like whether or not Michelle Obama had cheese on her burger.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Good to see the fine people of AZ are finally shedding that “whites only” stereotype.

  2. I’d say Arizona is full of haboobs. In favt, these days it’s run by the habooboisee.

  3. When I was a kid, most of the particles were white.

    The brown particles kept to their part of the state.

  4. Russel:

    What is wrong with the American term, dust storm? Why do you object when Americans want to use their native terms for their native weather?

    • Scott, there is nothing wrong with preferring a “native” term, I suppose. Expressions of xenophobic or jingoistic outrage, on the other hand, are just a little bit silly, no?

      • Russell:

        So you don’t object to the point Ms. Robinson makes just the low brow way in which she makes it? Yes she engages in bit of hyperbole but I think it is used to make the point about the culture of the southwest. You might see that if you lowered your nose a bit and didn’t tutt tutt her for being proud of her culture.

        • Oh, please. Ms. Robinson’s point is ludicrous in the extreme. “Who gave you the right?” indeed. Wind is wind. There is no cultural superiority to American wind, and the storms of America contain nothing more than air and dust.

          Ms. Robinson can use whatever term she likes. She makes herself ridiculous when protesting the perfectly reasonable terminology the weatherman may use, even if (horrors!) it comes from another country or culture.

          • Russell:

            Every culture has its own name for weather conditions and these names can have cultural significance. She is not arguing that our word is “better” than there’s just that it is more culturally appropriate.

          • She asks “Mr. Weatherman” who “gave him the right” to use a term unfamiliar to her, which certainly implies wrongdoing on his part.

    • If those dust storms don’t like our names for them, why don’t they just go back where they came from?

    • Just like “tsunami”instead of “tidal wave”. I mean, who won World War II, anyway?

      • Or Hurricaine instead of Cyclone. There haven’t been any Taino or Mayans ’round those parts for over 4 centuries now.

      • Mike:

        All of the race baiting aside, I couldn’t care less what the Japs call their native weather conditions. I would hope you and Russell would give Americans the same courtesy.

        • Scott, this isn’t a case of folks getting upset at the usage of the American term. It’s a case of folks getting upset at the usage of the non-American term. It’s one thing to say “we should call it a dust bowl” but another to say “you should not call it a haboob!” It’s the latter which is happening here.

          • Will:

            Yes I know this is about folks not liking the use of non American weather terms. Did you read all of my posts in this thread?

          • Yeah, you started with wondering why Russell had a problem with using the term “dust storm”, which I don’t see where he ever indicated a problem. Your intent seems to be to protect the usage of “dust storm”, while what’s really happening here (in my view) is that rather than defending the use of dust storm, they’re trashing alternative usage and expecting everyone else to use their terminology.

            As far as I am concerned, call it what you want. And don’t get high and mighty if I call it something else. I don’t like the word “haboob” so I will continue to call it “dust storm”, most likely. It’s conservative political correctness of the most petty sort. Not reserving the right to call it dust storm, but insisting that everyone else do the same.

            Incidentally, when I first read about objections of calling it a “haboob” I actually assumed they were coming from the left (associating something bad with the Middle East to denigrate foreigners and all that), and was rolling my eyes at it. That didn’t change when I saw what the objections actually were.

          • Will:

            No I was criticizing Russell for his criticism of Ms. Robinson. If we lived in the sandbox where a sandstorm is a haboob, I would say fine call it that but we don’t live there. We have our own words for things.

          • “Haboob” is one of “our” words for things. From the same article linked above:

            Dust storms are a regular summer phenomenon in Arizona, and the news media typically label them as nothing more than that. But the National Weather Service, in describing this month’s particularly thick storm, used the term haboob, which was widely picked up by the news media.

            “Meteorologists in the Southwest have used the term for decades,” said Randy Cerveny, a climatologist at Arizona State University. “The media usually avoid it because they don’t think anyone will understand it.”

            People don’t want to use the term? Fine by me. People want to object to other people using it, and couching their objection in supposed concern for soldiers’ feelings or nationalistic pride in “our” dust storms? That’s moronic.

          • Russell, Robinson’s tone is seriously aggravating, though I have to say David Wilson comes across as a holier-than-thou prick in a different way.

        • 1) What Will said.

          2) What an amusing irony, to have you obliquely criticize race baiting while referring to the Japanese as “Japs.”

        • Americans use “tsunami” all the time. It’s the preferred term, because they have nothing to do with tides.

  5. Rereading the bit about Mrs. Robinson… Is it possible that her letter was meant to be satirical? It reads more that way than it does an actual concerned community lady.

  6. I like laughing and I like boobs, so I’m against anything that brings negative connotations to either one or both together.

  7. Kolohe on Kudos to the New York Times…
    Or Hurricaine instead of Cyclone.

    What’s next, renaming all of our roller coasters?

  8. Oh serendipity! I may not be able to bear it if this is not the zenith of Islamic attempts to take over Arizona!

    Those Arizonians are right to oppose the linguistification of jihadism. From the most humble zero to the highest admiral, we as Americans and English speakers must resist this assassination of our sacred language!

    Perhaps we should respond with tariffs on all Arab nations? Or simply bleed them scarlet. I am so distressed that I’m frantically searching for an algorithm to make myself feel better. It may not be enough to relax on my sofa with some candy, coffee, soda, or alcohol with plenty of sugary syrup!

    I may have to go full bore and partake of a fine meal with apricots and artichokes, tuna, spinach, oranges, lemons or limes; then huddle in the fetal position beneath my soft mohair and muslin sheets. I may have to surround myself with the sweet scents of camphor or jasmine, or play some guitar music, to send this Islamofacism to its just nadir. I could distract myself from the Muslim takeover by reading a magazine about the safari!

    Is there any elixir or gauze that can ease my pain?

    (Perhaps there is some hashish in a jar somewhere under my mattress.)

  9. So is the general sense here that Diane Robinson was not in fact being facetious? That’s how I took it, although the evidence is not 100% in that direction.

    Personally I think the use of the term “haboob” here in America seems rather artificial, like someone either trying to be cute or trying too hard to be multi-culti. If they really needed an alternative to “dust storm”, I’d prefer the suggestion of one of the comments for Ms Robinson’s letter — “sandnami”.

    • Oops, just saw RTod’s comment from earlier — please mentally replace the text in the above comment with “I agree with RTod’s reading”.

      • That’s funny. I actually mentally replace the text in all comments with “I agree with RTod.” Even in those I haven’t commented on yet.

        It saves time.

  10. Typical NYT/mainstream bottom-feeding to discredit the right. Some idiot wrote a letter to the newspaper? Geez, I can do chapter & verse on the important stories the NYT/MSM doesn’t cover. Instead they spend their time on this.

    Just ran across the precursor of “freedom fries,” BTW. [Yah I guess this affinity for useless info is why I did OK on gameshows.]

    During WWI, “Americans renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage”; dachshunds “liberty hounds”; and German measles “liberty measles.”

    Dunno about you, but that just put me in the mood for some Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey Toast.

      • Someone should ask Erik if this is something that is on the local radar.

        I am having a hard time which I think is more improbable: that this would be an actual local issue, or that with everything else they could bang the right on the NYT is focusing on crackpot letters to the editor 2500 miles away from their office.

    • Perhaps I was too subtle with this point, but I was trying to implicitly criticize the Times for covering this non-controversy in the first place.

      • Yes, that was the exoteric first sentence, but you still got your innings in, bagging on the right, which ended up reinforcing the NYT pettiness anyway.

        Unless you weren’t being sarcastic about Michelle Obama and the hamburger, but I think you were. On that issue, some of us are just tired of this White House’s nagging and exhortations. STFU and do your job, which you’re not.

        • Ah, well. If the Right is going to act so impossibly silly, then really it’s awfully hard to resist.

          One wonders what the First Lady’s “job” is, other than to find some relatively anodyne issue to flog. I believe the previous FLOTUS was big on literacy, while her husband was creating the groundwork for our current economic brouhaha. But I doubt you and I will be seeing eye to eye on this… or much else.

          • I’m just reading you carefully, and formally you tried to have it both ways. Like saying “I’m not even going to mention x, of course thereby mentioning it anyway.


            So, no, I didn’t get an “implicit” criticism. I got an exoteric disclaimer then a reinforcement of what the NYT was up to in the first place. Sorry, this is my Leo Strauss influence, “close reading,” separating the explicit gloss from the implicit message. Your implicit message was the same as the NYT’s.

            And I’m not at all exercised by this. I’m used to the technique and so I’m in “low” dudgeon about it at most. Just noting it is all, and it’s not really that subtle.

            As for the nagging, yeah, I’ve been sick of being “exhorted” from the first. For this FLOTUS, true, I’d rather she had done literacy or dropping out of school or fatherless children or a dozen things directed towards folks who actually give a shit what she says, and where she could have done some actual good.

            And yeah, the various fattening meals she and POTUS eat in public don’t enhance the message either. Nancy Reagan never smoked crack. [Or got caught doing it anyway, heh heh.]

            So yeah, we don’t see eye to eye on this. But I’m not starting a fight, just registering a complaint. I like your stuff, but I think you spend a more lot time on making your phrasings ambiguous than saying what you have to say. And phrasing things over-artfully is pretty transparent to the attentive reader, as I remain yours.


          • Merciful heavens, Tom. If “low” dudgeon gets me a multi-paragraph exegesis, I find myself morbidly curious about what happens when someone cranks your ire to 11.

            I did learn a new word, though. Now I have to find a way of working “exoteric” into a sentence tomorrow.

            Over-artful phrasing comes with my profession, by the bye. If I told people what I really thought most of the time, I’d probably have far fewer patients. Regardless, I’m happy enough to have regular readers, so I’ll content myself that you’re reading at all.

          • Russell:

            The FLOTUS doesn’t have a job but if she is going to flog an issue it helps not to look like a hypocrite. As for Bush laying the ground work for this economic crisis, please check your history as the roots were there before Bush became pres though the lefties will never admit it.

          • Well, Scott, certainly not this lefty. True, much of our current mess stems from the steady erosion of business oversight, which admittedly started before W. took office. But the creation of a massive new entitlement and starting a completely unnecessary war while cutting taxes? Those are all Bush II.

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