Friday, October 13, 2006

Why Friday the 13th Really Is Unlucky for Some

(taken from the site)

Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Fear of Friday the 13th

I just finished reading the abstract of a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1993 entitled "Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Health?" With the aim of mapping "the relation between health, behaviour, and superstition surrounding Friday 13th in the United Kingdom," its authors compared the ratio of traffic volume to the number of automobile accidents on two different days, Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th, over a period of years.

Incredibly, they found that in the region sampled, while consistently fewer people chose to drive their cars on Friday the 13th, the number of hospital admissions due to vehicular accidents was significantly higher than on "normal" Fridays.

Their conclusion:

"Friday 13th is unlucky for some. The risk of hospital admission as a
result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent. Staying at home is recommended."

Paraskevidekatriaphobics — people afflicted with a morbid, irrational fear of Friday the 13th — must be pricking up their ears just now, buoyed by seeming evidence that their terror may not be so irrational after all. But it's unwise to take solace in a single scientific study — the only one of its kind, so far as I know — especially one so peculiar. I suspect these statistics have more to teach us about human psychology than the ill-fatedness of any particular date on the calendar.

Friday the 13th - The Most Widespread Superstition?

The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. Some sources say it may be the most widespread superstition in the United States. Some people won't go to work on Friday the 13th; some won't eat in restaurants; many wouldn't think of setting a wedding on the date.

Just how many Americans at the turn of the millennium still suffer from this condition? According to Dr. Donald Dossey, a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of phobias (and coiner of the term "paraskevidekatriaphobia"), the figure may be as high as 21 million. If he's right, eight percent of Americans are still in the grips of a very old superstition.

Exactly how old is difficult to say, because determining the origins of superstitions is an imprecise science, at best. In fact, it's mostly guesswork.

13: The Devil's Dozen

It is said: If 13 people sit down to dinner together, all will die within the year. The Turks so disliked the number 13 that it was practically expunged from their vocabulary (Brewer, 1894). Many cities do not have a 13th Street or a 13th Avenue. Many buildings don't have a 13th floor. If you have 13 letters in your name, you will have the devil's luck (Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey
Dahmer, Theodore Bundy and Albert De Salvo all have 13 letters in their names).
There are 13 witches in a coven.

Though no one can say for sure when and why human beings first associated the number 13 with misfortune, the belief is assumed to be quite old, and there exist any number of theories — all of which have been called into question at one time or another, I should point out — purporting to trace its origins to antiquity and beyond.

It has been proposed, for example, that fears surrounding the number 13 are as ancient as the act of counting. Primitive man had only his 10 fingers and two feet to represent units, this explanation goes, so he could count no higher than 12. What lay beyond that — 13 — was an impenetrable mystery to our prehistoric forebears, hence an object of superstition.

Which has an edifying ring to it, but one is left wondering — did primitive man not have toes?

Despite whatever terrors the numerical unknown held for their hunter-gatherer ancestors, ancient civilizations weren't unanimous in their dread of 13. The Chinese regarded the number as lucky, some commentators note, as did the Egyptians in the time of the pharaohs.

To the ancient Egyptians, these sources tell us, life was a quest for spiritual ascension which unfolded in stages — 12 in this life and a 13th beyond, thought to be the eternal afterlife. The number 13 therefore symbolized death — not in terms of dust and decay, but as a glorious and desirable transformation. Though Egyptian civilization perished, the symbolism conferred on the number 13 by its priesthood survived, only to be corrupted by subsequent cultures who came to associate 13 with a fear of death instead of a reverence for the afterlife.


Other sources speculate that the number 13 may have been purposely vilified by the founders of patriarchal religions in the early days of western civilization because it represented femininity. Thirteen had been revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures, we are told, because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days). The "Earth Mother of Laussel," for example — a 27,000-year-old carving found near the Lascaux caves in France often cited as an icon of matriarchal spirituality — depicts a female figure holding a cresent-shaped horn bearing 13 notches. As the solar calendar triumphed over the lunar with the rise of male-dominated civilization, it is surmised, so did the number 12 over the number 13, thereafter considered anathema.

On the other hand, one of the earliest concrete taboos associated with the number 13 — a taboo still observed by some superstitious folks today, evidently — is said to have originated in the East with the Hindus, who believed, for reasons I haven't been able to ascertain, that it is always unlucky for 13 people to gather in one place — say, at dinner. Interestingly enough, precisely the same superstition has been attributed to the ancient Vikings (though I have also been told, for what it's worth, that this and the accompanying mythographical explanation are apocryphal). The story has been laid down as follows:

Loki, the Evil One

Twelve gods were invited to a banquet at Valhalla. Loki, the Evil One, god of mischief, had been left off the guest list but crashed the party, bringing the total number of attendees to 13. True to character, Loki raised hell by inciting Hod, the blind god of winter, to attack Balder the Good, who was a favorite of the gods. Hod took a spear of mistletoe offered by Loki and obediently hurled it at Balder, killing him instantly. All Valhalla grieved. And although one might take the moral of this story to be "Beware of uninvited guests bearing mistletoe," the Norse themselves apparently concluded that 13 people at a dinner party is just plain bad luck.

As if to prove the point, the Bible tells us there were exactly 13 present at the Last Supper. One of the dinner guests — er, disciples — betrayed Jesus Christ, setting the stage for the Crucifixion.

Did I mention the Crucifixion took place on a Friday?

Bad Friday

It is said: Never change your bed on Friday; it will bring bad dreams. Don't start a trip on Friday or you will have misfortune. If you cut your nails on Friday, you cut them for sorrow. Ships that set sail on a Friday will have bad luck – as in the tale of H.M.S. Friday ...

One hundred years ago, the British government sought to quell once and for all the widespread superstition among seamen that setting sail on Fridays was unlucky. A special ship was commissioned, named "H.M.S. Friday." They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday and hired a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. To top it off, H.M.S. Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday, and was never seen or heard from again.

Some say Friday's bad reputation goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It was on a Friday, supposedly, that Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit. Adam bit, as we all learned in Sunday School, and they were both ejected from Paradise. Tradition also holds that the Great Flood began on a Friday; God tongue-tied the builders of the Tower of Babel on a Friday; the Temple of Solomon was destroyed on a Friday; and, of course, Friday was the day of the week on which Christ was crucified. It is therefore a day of penance for Christians.

In pagan Rome, Friday was execution day (later Hangman's Day in Britain), but in other pre-Christian cultures it was the sabbath, a day of worship, so those who indulged in secular or self-interested activities on that day could not expect to receive blessings from the gods — which may explain the lingering taboo on embarking on journeys or starting important projects on Fridays.

To complicate matters, these pagan associations were not lost on the early Church, which went to great lengths to suppress them. If Friday was a holy day for heathens, the Church fathers felt, it must not be so for Christians — thus it became known in the Middle Ages as the "Witches' Sabbath," and thereby hangs another tale.

The original article ran a poll for readers to see what percentage is superstitious about Friday the 13th. To participate in the poll, click here.

The Witch-Goddess

The name "Friday" was derived from a Norse deity worshipped on the sixth day, known either as Frigg (goddess of marriage and fertility), or Freya (goddess of sex and fertility), or both, the two figures having become intertwined in the handing-down of myths over time (the etymology of "Friday" has been given both ways). Frigg/Freya corresponded to Venus, the goddess of love of the Romans, who named the sixth day of the week in her honor "dies Veneris."

Friday was actually considered quite lucky by pre-Christian Teutonic peoples, we are told — especially as a day to get married — because of its traditional association with love and fertility. All that changed when Christianity came along. The goddess of the sixth day — most likely Freya in this context, given that the cat was her sacred animal — was recast in post-pagan folklore as a witch, and her day became associated with evil doings.

Various legends developed in that vein, but one is of particular interest: As the story goes, the witches of the north used to observe their sabbath by gathering in a cemetery in the dark of the moon. On one such occasion the Friday goddess, Freya herself, came down from her sanctuary in the mountaintops and appeared before the group, who numbered only 12 at the time, and gave them one of her cats, after which the witches' coven — and, by tradition, every properly-formed coven since — comprised exactly 13.

The Unluckiest Day of All

The astute reader will have observed that while we have thus far insinuated any number of intriguing connections between events, practices and beliefs attributed to ancient cultures and the superstitious fear of Fridays and the number 13, we have yet to happen upon an explanation of how, why or when these separate strands of folklore converged — if that is indeed what happened — to mark Friday the 13th as the unluckiest day of all.

There's a very simple reason for that — nobody really knows, though various explanations have been proposed.

The Knights Templar

One theory, recently offered up as historical fact in the novel The Da Vinci Code, holds that it came about not as the result of a convergence, but a catastrophe, a single historical event that happened nearly 700 years ago.

The catastrophe was the decimation of the Knights Templar, the legendary order of "warrior monks" formed during the Christian Crusades to combat Islam. Renowned as a fighting force for 200 years, by the 1300s the order had grown so pervasive and powerful it was perceived as a political threat by kings and popes alike and brought down by a church-state conspiracy, as recounted by Katharine Kurtz in Tales of the Knights Templar (Warner Books: 1995):

    "On October 13, 1307, a day so infamous that Friday the 13th would become a synonym for ill fortune, officers of King Philip IV of France carried out mass arrests in a well-coordinated dawn raid that left several thousand Templars — knights, sergeants, priests, and serving brethren — in chains, charged with heresy, blasphemy, various obscenities, and homosexual practices. None of these charges was ever proven, even in France — and the Order was found innocent elsewhere — but in the seven years following the arrests, hundreds of Templars suffered excruciating tortures intended to force 'confessions,' and more than a hundred died under torture or were executed by burning at the stake."

A Thoroughly Modern Phenomenon

There are drawbacks to the "day so infamous" thesis, not the least of which is that it attributes enormous cultural significance to a relatively obscure historical event. Even more problematic, for this or any other theory positing premodern origins for Friday the 13th superstitions, is the fact that no one has been able to document the existence of such beliefs prior to the 19th century. If people who lived before the late 1800s perceived Friday the 13th as a day of special misfortune, no evidence has been found to prove it. As a result, some scholars are now convinced the stigma is a thoroughly modern phenomenon exacerbated by 20th-century media hype.

Going back a hundred years, Friday the 13th doesn't even merit a mention in E. Cobham Brewer's voluminous 1898 edition of the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, though one does find entries for "Friday, an Unlucky Day" and "Thirteen Unlucky." When the date of ill fate finally does make an appearance in later editions of the text, it is without extravagant claims as to the superstition's historicity or longevity. The very brevity of the entry is instructive: "A particularly unlucky Friday. See Thirteen" — implying that the extra dollop of misfortune attributed to Friday the 13th can be accounted for in terms of an accrual, so to speak, of bad omens:

Unlucky Friday + Unlucky 13 = Unluckier Friday.

If that's the case, we are guilty of perpetuating a misnomer by labeling Friday the 13th "the unluckiest day of all," a designation perhaps better reserved for, say, a Friday the 13th on which one breaks a mirror, walks under a ladder, spills the salt, and spies a black cat crossing one's path — a day, if there ever was one, best spent in the safety of one's own home with doors locked, shutters closed and fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Day Old Post

Of course, all the stuff in that post about Joe Torre being fired turns out to be idle speculation, since General von Steingrabber has apparently consented to let Joe Torre at least finish out his contract.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Baaaasebaaaall, movies, and the Mets

It's been a long time, I shouldn't'a left you,
Without a dope post to read (or two)
Think about all the weak posts you slept through --
Time's up! Sorry I kept you...

(apologies to Rakim, and for this post title, more apologies to the guy who wrote that baseball song that he then customized for every major league team)

But it has been too long since a new post has shown up here. I created a post offline last night, then forgot to save it to my flash drive so I could take it to work and post it from there. They always say the memory is the first thing to go. (grin)

So the Yankees, embarrassed and angry that the $200-million-plus paid to their band of suspects didn't get them past the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season, want to fire Joe Torre and replace him with Lou Piniella. Well, they're right about someone having to lose their job for incompetence and lack of foresight. Too bad that somebody can't be George Steinbrenner.

In yesterday's NY Daily News Mike Lupica makes all the all the right noises to avoid sounding like a Steinbrenner hatchet-man when he says, in so many words, that Torre isn't responsible for the free-agent acquisitions that turned the Yankees from a team to a bunch of individuals who take the field at the same time and play wearing the same uniform. He admits that firing Torre won't make the pitching staff any younger or any better. It won't solve Alex Rodriguez' protracted I-problem. But then he says that some kind of change has to be made, and that nobody gets to be Yankees manager forever, not even Torre.

Well, he's right that nobody gets to be Yankee manager forever, and I never thought Torre would even try to bend that rule. But firing him for the failures of his team is the wrong move. What they need to do is get rid of the guys who are too wrapped up in themselves (Alex RodrIguez, Gary SheffIeld) to be team players. A caller to a radio call-in show on WFAN here in New York pointed out this past Sunday that during post-elimination interviews, Jeter's sentences were dominated by "we," while Pay-Rod's were dominated by "I" (hence my mention of his "I-problem"). Kinda vindicates Steve Phillips, former Mets general manager, for breaking off negotiations with Rodriguez back when he was a free agent, claiming that Pay-Rod wanted his own publicity staff and an office with a secretary. Phillips probably exaggerated when relating what he says Rodriguez wanted, but A-Rod definitely turns any team from a unit of 25 players to a "24+1" unit, and that never works. Even Reggie Jackson, king of I-problems, knew that he couldn't be that separate from the team for very long and expect success. At least I think he did...

Bill Madden of the Daily News suggests that some apparently believe that if Piniella is hired in Torre's place, he might be able to get more out of Rodriguez. They got along well when Piniella was managing the Seattle Mariners and Rodriguez was their start shortstop. But that same story also points out that it was after Rodriguez left, winding up in Texas with a $252 million contract and a nickname ("Pay-Rod") I'm sure he hates, that the Mariners set a regular season record with a 116-46 record. I'm sure that's not a coincidence.

Even Derek Jeter gets some of the blame in the Daily News stories, which point out that Jeter was quick to come to Jason Giambi's defense when the sterioids stories began hitting the news, while doing and saying absolutely nothing to bring A-Rod into the fold when he began floundering. Maybe Jeter, the team captain, could have been more supportive of A-Rod, but that wouldn't change the fact that Jeter is a team player, and Rodriguez is not. Case closed.

Meanwhile, there's a report that, if Joe Torre is indeed fired, the Texas Rangers would be interested in hiring him, since the recent firing of Buck Showalter leaves the managerial position open. If Torre goes down there and tears up the American League the way the Mets did the National League this year, Buck Showalter will be vindicated in the claims he made back in 2002, that he planted the seeds that grew into Yankee world championships in the late 90s and the Arizona Diamondbacks championship in 2001. After all, Showalter, who was given an unusual amount of say in personnel decisions, helped create the teams that went on to win it all in New York and Arizona. If Torre gets fired in NY, takes the Texas job, and wins it all in 2007 or 2008, it would probably be right to conclude that Showalter should be in the front office, not on the field. Not that he's a bad manager, per se, but if Texas winds up being the third consecutive team he helped put together that goes on to win a World Series within two seasons of firing him as manager, he should seriously consider seeking a front office job and leave the field managing to others.

There's also an article in the sports section of yesterday's Daily News suggesting that maybe Torre isn't as close to being fired as all the screaming headlines suggest, that this might be Steinbrenner's way, though an underling, of making sure the Yankees remain the top baseball story in New York, even though the Mets are the only New York baseball team whose season is not over. Wouldn't surprise me at all; they say Steinbrenner hates it when the Mets make the front or back pages of the NY newspapers for any reason, baseball-related or not. Even in the aftermath of 9-11 it became an issue when Mets players were in the Ground Zero area volunteering their services -- visiting the injured in area hospitals, helping to feed the rescue and cleanup workers, etc. -- while Yankees players were conspicuously absent. The Yankees players, no doubt egged on by the front office, accused the Mets players of grandstanding to make the papers, while the Mets players accused the Yankees of not taking the opportunity to do something to help.

Meanwhile, outside the stadium...

This, from yesterday's New York Daily News, near the very end of the Lupica article calling for Torre's dismissal and replacing him with Lou Piniella:

Across Rupert Place, a couple of kids from the neighborhood, Nelson and Alvin G, from 162nd and Woodycrest, were playing basketball at Macombs Dam Park, which will be razed soon for the new Yankee Stadium.

"What did you think about the Yankees?" Nelson G was asked.

The kid smiled. "Let's go, Mets!" he said. Then, he was chanting it. "Let's go, Mets! Let's go, Mets!"

Then there were two more kids coming from the next court... laughing and yelling for the Mets across the street from Yankee Stadium.

Take that, General von Steingrabber!

"The Last King of Scotland"

Stanley Crouch, professional grouch for the NY Daily News, has good things to say about this movie, namely how it personalizes Uganda dictator Idi Amin Dada, generally portrayed by history as a monster in a uniform. Crouch says it does a good job of showing how Amin was able to sway people into seeing him as "not the animal he's made out to be," and that in doing so Forest Whitaker does the "unimaginable."

What I want to know is, why is this movie called "The Last King of Scotland"? I know a pivotal part of the story is how Amin manages to get a young doctor from Scotland to agree to be his personal physician, and how this man tries to reconcile the man he knows as his patient with the animal Amin was made out to be by the rest of the world. But it's a bit... disconcerting, to see a pic of a maniacally-grinning Whitaker, in uniform as Amin, with "The Last King of Scotland" as the caption to the photo.

"One team plays games, the other plays baseball"

That is the headline at the top of Lisa Olson's story comparing the Mets NLCS team and the Yankees' failure to launch.

She make some good points in comparison, but the point, not mentioned in the story, that resonates with me is this:

Pedro Martinez, the staff ace, was unavailable for much of the season, and totally unavailable for the postseason; Orlando Hernandez, not the staff ace but maybe the best postseason pitcher in the game, was also unavailable for the postseason -- and still, the Mets swept the Dodgers. They needed a lot of help from the bullpen -- in fact, no team that has swept the first round of playoffs has had the starting pitchers consistently leave the games so early -- but the bullpen came through, as bullpens are supposed to, and the Mets are in the league playoffs while the Yankees can only "participate" in the postseason as spectators.