Friday, February 3, 2006

The question no one but p3 dares to ask

Yesterday, of course, was Groundhog's Day. The media and curiosity-seekers from around the world gathered in Gobbler's Knob PA to watch as Punxsutawney Phil was brought out by his handler. Officials declared that Phil had indeed seen his shadow, and that we've therefore got six more weeks of winter to look forward to.

Groundhog's Day is an occasion for local entrepreneurs to cheerfully cash in on the publicity. And Phil's appearance this year was underwritten in part by corporate sponsors including Domino's Pizza, McDonald's, First Commonwealth Financial, and Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion (don't even ask).

Phil doesn't announce his forecasts himself, of course; he has an inner circle who speak for him. It's generally known that the inner circle prepares Phil's forecasts for him in advance, with the help of the national weather services, although by tradition the existence of this back-stage help is stoutly denied.

And about that prediction: Should we keep the winter clothes out another couple of months? Although his official web site claims that Phil has been 100% accurate for the last 120 years, National Climactic Data Center estimates Phil's accuracy rate since 1980 at about 59 percent, although other sources put that figure at somewhere between 28 percent and 39 percent.

All right, people--let's review:
  • Punxsutawney Phil has no obvious credentials or qualifications for predicting the weather other than the fact that he has a job predicting the weather. He was put in the job by people who find it useful for him to front the operation. Under any other circumstances, the fact that people claim to rely on him for this job would be ridiculous.

  • Even by the most optimistic estimates, he's been right only about 15 times in the last 25 years, not much better than flipping a coin, although his people have doctored the statistics to make it appear much higher. And actually, once you start digging, you quickly realize that no reliable data exist to evaluate how well he's been doing.

  • The only reason he's gotten as many right as he apparently has is because he's got handlers--let's be blunt: a bunch of well-dressed middle-aged white guys--who do the actual heavy lifting for him.

  • Independent professionals in his field don't take him seriously for a moment.

  • His dismal accuracy record is generally overlooked, though, since no one ever really expected he could predict the weather anyway.

  • He works, calculating generously, a few hours every February 2nd and takes the rest of the year off.

  • Even so, he gets housing, per diem, and a staff (including a driver).

  • Those around him know that the actual work he does is less important than the opportunity he creates for insiders and big corporations to make money off the hoopla.

So--is it me, or does Punxsutawney Phil sound an awful lot like a Bush appointee?


Gary Copeland said...

I didn't actually see the end coming since I thought it was going to be about Bush himself.

Nothstine said...

Misdirection is the cornerstone of humor, of course. That and the "rule of three." And, of course, the word "weasel."

But I felt that, while it was fair to compare a member of the marmot family with a Bush appointee, it was a little bit unfair [to the marmot] to make the comparison with Bush himself.

That's just how I feel about it.