The Immense Stupidity of Groundhog Day

As my mother correctly notes each year, there are always approximately six more weeks of winter from Groundhog Day.

Is there a dumber American tradition than Groundhog Day? I submit to you that there is not. Readers of this site will know that I am a fan of all manner of nonsense, but I just can’t get into this. “Groundhog Day”, the movie? A fun flick. Groundhog Day, the “holiday”? Vacuous nonsense.

The problem, as I see it, is that there’s simply nothing there. They pull out poor Punxsutawney Phil, and then…a person announces whether the rodent saw his shadow or not. The groundhog doesn’t actually react in any visible way. The whole thing isn’t even as goofy as “Is the groundhog awake or not?”. No, the weather-predicting woodchuck is utterly unnecessary to the proceedings. They could just flip a coin. Or skip the whole thing entirely.

In the midst of confronting the vast and moronic reach that Groundhog Day has attained, I learned quite a lot from a CNN article detailing they day’s history. For instance, did you know that once upon a time, they ate Punxsutawney Phil after he made his guess?

Before he was a celebrity, though, he was lunch. In a terrible twist, the earliest Groundhog Days of the 19th century involved devouring poor Phil after he made his prediction. The year 1887 was the year of the “Groundhog Picnic,” Yoder said. Pennsylvania historian Christopher Davis wrote that locals cooked up groundhog as a “special local dish,” served at the Punxsutawney Elk Lodge, whose members would go on to create the town’s Groundhog Club. Diners were “pleased at how tender” the poor groundhog’s meat was, Davis said.

Cheese and crackers! Really though, I think I respect this more. Oh, sure, it’s awful. But it feels somehow more honest too. Devour your gods.

And yet, in defiance of both all logic as well as the preceding text, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club claims there’s only been one Punxsutawney Phil in history:

How many “Phils” have there been over the years?
There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions since 1886! Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking the “elixir of life,” a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life.

Even if it only works on groundhogs, that “elixir of life” seems a lot more impressive than the flimsy record of forecasting. Also, how about sharing? If it adds seven years to his life, Phil doesn’t need a sip every year.

Does Phil have a wife?
Yes, her name is Phyliss. She doesn’t receive the Elixir of Life so she will not live forever like Phil.

What the hell? Why, pray tell, can’t Phyliss have some elixir too? Worse is the fact that Phil’s poor wife/wives have been saddled with a matching name. Just as I would never feel quite right dating someone named “Paula” or “Paulette”, Phil and Phyliss should just be friends, or even steer clear of one another completely.

Remarkably, Canada recently found a way to make things even dumber. Though I believe the world needs exactly zero groundhogs masquerading as meteorologists, it seems we must come to terms with a single such rodent. However, Punxsutawney Phil certainly needs no imitators, a fact it would behoove the Quebeckers to souviens. Their failure to do so led to a bizarre occurrence yesterday, when they turned to a group of schoolchildren to get a prediction about winter. Why? Well it seems that their knockoff prognosticator, “Fred La Marmotte”, showed up to his one-day-a-year job dead.

Automated Rudeness

Flakes are ruining it for the rest of us.

I’m a responsible adult who keeps a digital calendar. When I book a table for dinner, I also create an event, complete with reminders. Thanks to this system, I don’t believe I’ve ever missed a reservation in my life. That’s not boasting, it’s just how one should act in society.

Nevertheless, as the dates of my reservations approach, I am frequently assailed by demands that I confirm them. For many years, this took the form of dreaded phone calls. I generally don’t answer unexpected phone calls from strangers, but I will search the web for the number displayed on my caller ID. Sometimes I’d then pick up with a weary sigh, and confirm. Other times, I’d be too slow or unlucky in my searching. Then, I’d wind up with a voicemail that then seemed to require a call back, lest I lose my table. I found the whole process more than a little vexatious.

Lately, things have improved, as these reminders have mostly shifted to texts and emails. Though still annoying, I can live with this. It’s certainly better than forcing me to use my phone as a phone.

A text message request to confirm a reservation.

The restaurant business is a tough one. I sympathize with restaurants who want to maximize their throughput, only to find themselves stymied by flakes. Though I don’t believe I should have to do anything beyond making a reservation and showing up for it, I am willing to text “1” or click a link in an email to confirm that I’ll be where I said I’d be.

However, some places go too far. You see, in addition to reminders like the one above, I’ve received warning texts like this:

A text reading “You’re due at the restaurant in 30 minutes.”

Though it’s factual, this text just reads terribly to me. When I first saw it years ago, I was honestly taken aback. I thought the restaurant itself was being ungracious. However, after seeing it from different businesses, I realized the message was actually sent by online reservations system Resy. As far as I know, restaurants have no control over the message’s content. That’s a shame, because it’s making them look discourteous.

So, then, a plea to Resy: How about improving this language, to make it a little softer, a little more friendly? Perhaps something like “Motorino is looking forward to serving you in 30 minutes”. Anything would be better than this impolite nagging.

How Do You Do, Fellow Kids? 

I only just now noticed that Lenny Wosniak has not one, but two, skateboards.

It was funny when “21 Jump Street” sent 20-somethings back to high school. It was even funnier when “30 Rock” parodied that.1 But when a near 30-year-old in New Jersey does it, it’s just odd.

A 2017 picture of the criminal

Even in a photo from 2017, this woman did not look 14. I am very curious to know why she did this, and how she thought she’d get away with it.


Footnotes:

  1. The video is archived here. ↩︎

Chattin’ With Apes 

“Tearing strips from a leaf with teeth is a…gesture of flirtation.”

Have you ever wanted to talk to a chimpanzee or a bonobo? You might just be able to.

Humans share elements of a common language with other apes, understanding many gestures that wild chimps and bonobos use to communicate.

Various ape gestures, shown visually

Now if we could just figure out the gesture for “Please don’t rip my face off”.

Jailbreaking Metal 

Fortunately, we’re still a ways off from the T-1000.

Do you want terminators? Because this is how you get terminators!

In a cheeky video featuring some strong T2 callbacks, a Lego man-shaped mold of the magnetoactive solid-liquid can even be seen liquifying and moving through tiny jail cell bars before reforming into its original structure. If that last part seems a bit impossible, well, it is. For now.

“There is some context to the video. It [looks] like magic,” Carmel Majidi, a senior author and mechanical engineer at Carnegie Mellon, explains to PopSci with a laugh. According [to] Majidi, everything leading up to the model’s reformation is as it appears—the shape does liquify before being drawn through the mesh barrier via alternating electromagnetic currents. From there, however, someone pauses the camera to recast the mold into its original shape.

If a robot can melt itself to escape, but it can’t reform into a solid, we’re probably pretty safe from it. Maybe scientists can stop there.

Continued Improvements in Blood Donor Screening 

We’ll get there.

For as long as I have been donating platelets (a specialized form of donating blood), there have been restrictions on donations by men who have sex with other men. Though these limits were enacted during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, when I began donating in 2005, any man who’d ever had sex with another man was still barred from donating. This was eventually softened, with the rules prohibiting “only” men who’d had sex with another man in the past year, and eventually down to the past three months.

Going from “The government views your blood as permanently tainted” to “Fine, we’ll take you, as long as you have a lousy sex life” is an improvement, yes, but it’s still not great. With new rule changes from the FDA, however, we should be getting a bit closer to a reasonable standard.

The new risk assessment is expected to ask potential donors, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, if they have had any new sexual partners in the past three months…They can give blood if they say no. Those who have had new sexual partners would be asked if they had engaged in anal intercourse in the past three months; those who have would be asked to wait three months to donate.…This will allow sexually active men in monogamous relationships with other men to give blood for the first time since 1985.

Each and every time I’ve filled out my screening questionnaire, I’ve been bothered by the unnecessary limitations on others trying to do something selfless. Concern about the safety of America’s blood supply was understandable, but previous restrictions were inconsistent, and advances in testing were slow to be incorporated into the rules.1 I’m glad to see improvements continuing to be made.


Footnotes:

  1. As nursing student and activist Cole Williams bluntly noted in the article, “I could have as much unprotected sex with as many women as I wanted, and the FDA would have no problem with that.” ↩︎

This Might Not Actually Mean Very Much 

This is a cheap shot and I don’t care a whit.

ChatGPT is an artificially intelligent chatbot that uses massive language models to appear very knowledgeable about many topics. The general public has had access to it for a couple months now, and the results it’s produced are often impressive, or at least amusing. Recently, I saw the headline “ChatGPT passes MBA exam given by a Wharton professor”.

Now, that might sound impressive, but let’s bear in mind that Donald Trump also managed to graduate from Wharton. So, the bar may not be very high.


Update (January 27, 2023): See also “Law school exam” and “Rudy Giuliani”.

The Lights Remain On 

“Make technology an addition to your setup, not a dependency” is very good advice.

Well, this is just re-goddamned-diculous:

The lights at Massachusetts’ Minnechaug Regional High School burn ever bright. They actually never turn off. They can’t turn off. The smart lighting system for the entire building is broken, and it’s stuck in the “on” position. It has apparently been this way for over a year now, and the electric bills are really starting to pile up.

The original design of this system was very bad, and its designers ought to be ashamed of themselves.

You Can’t Get Away With Defrauding a Dog 

Can you get any lower?

I first wrote about George Santos, the ludicrous liar elected to the US House of Representatives out of New York’s 3rd congressional district, last month. Since then, the list of his falsehoods has continued to grow. Alas, to date, there has been precious little in the way of consequences.

But surely, surely, society won’t put up with a man who stole $3,000 from a cancer-stricken dog, right? Particularly not given that the dog belonged to a homeless veteran? Please?

Monorail! 

It really is a fantastic episode.

In the early ’90s, before Conan O’Brien was Conan O’Brien, he was a staff writer for “The Simpsons”. While there, he led the creation of one of the greatest episodes of all time, “Marge vs. the Monorail”. Three decades later, friend-of-the-site Oliver Y. tipped me off to the Ringer’s excellent look at how the episode came to be.