OPINIONS

Get it Right: Get a Grip, PETA

I was prepared this week to offer blunt and displeased commentary on Obama’s State of the Union speech. However, Obama’s address hardly seems worth remarking on: it fit the typical State of the Union model, in which the president pretends to have delivered on promises, blames the nation’s problems on the former administration and then proceeds to ask why we can’t all just get along.

Thus, I shall instead dedicate my column this week to one of my favorite days of the year: Groundhog Day! For reasons that I myself do not fully comprehend, I eagerly anticipate the approach of February 2 each year.

Born in Punxsutawney, Pa., the Groundhog Day tradition has endured since 1886. From the official Groundhog Club Web site: “After Phil emerges from his burrow on February 2, he speaks to the Groundhog Club president in “Groundhogese”(a language only understood by the current president of the Inner Circle). His proclamation is then translated for the world.”

A strange tradition perhaps: to wrest a hibernating woodchuck from his hole and gauge his ground-hoggish antics for signs of an early spring. Yet it possesses a sort of backwoods appeal. It is an excuse to watch the epic Bill Murray film, ponder the imminence of an amazing spring quarter at Stanford and feel a cozy (if slightly ridiculous) attachment to nature. Whether we celebrate Phil’s foresight in predicting an early spring or shake our fists at his pessimistic prediction of extended winter, it is hard to imagine that the quaint tradition might offend anyone.

And yet the tragic truth reveals itself again: that certain factions of society, no doubt suffering from a sense of aimlessness, tend to latch on to insignificant “social evils” to add purpose to their lives. Alas, PETA has declared war against Groundhog Day. The problem? Well, groundhogs, naturally shy creatures, ought not be subjected to the fanfare of the Groundhog Festival. The captive groundhog, victim of gross abuse, is a prisoner of the superstitious hicks, and must be freed forthwith to hibernate in peace. The alternative? PETA suggests a robotic groundhog replace Punxsutawney Phil on the day of climate judgment. According to the PETA executive Vice President, “Switching to a robotic animal for Groundhog Day celebrations would be a win-win situation for the town. An animatronic groundhog would attract new and curious tourists, and the real groundhogs would finally get a good winter’s sleep.”

Unless I mistake the desires of tourists, it is unlikely that a robotic ground beaver will have a vast deal of crowd appeal. Does PETA really believe that tourists will load up the car and turn out for a weather prediction by a lump of metal and synthetic fur? Don’t get me wrong: I love rodents. I am just as fond of a hamster or gerbil as your average pet-friendly student. Pet rodents, like our friend Phil, are certainly not naturally outgoing social creatures. Through a rather amazing process known as domestication, these naturally shy creatures become accustomed to human interactions.

Additionally, contrary to the PETA portrayal, Phil the groundhog is hardly subjected to tragic life behind iron bars. William Deeley, president of the Groundhog Club, remarked that Phil is “being treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania.” This statement is no doubt an exaggeration, but it is true that the groundhog’s enclosure is climate-controlled and is annually inspected by the state Department of Agriculture.

Perhaps PETA should be asking more important questions, such as: are raccoons being marginalized on Stanford Campus? Is the impaling of a teddy-bear on the Claw during Big Game representative of an unhealthy student hatred of grizzlies? Do cockroaches really deserve extermination?

Kidding aside, I hope you’ve all had a fantastic February 2 and that you enjoyed the innocent tradition as much as I do!

If you’d like to discuss the reliability of groundhogs vs. climatologists: Emorgan1@stanford.edu.

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