Friday the 13th

I found a pretty interesting article concerning the superstition behind our affixation on the number 13, as well as how the 13th of a month, when it lands on a Friday, has traditionally been viewed as a day of bad luck. And of course, an entire film franchise is centered around the concept. It’s a pretty neat read, so enjoy!

If Friday the 13th is unlucky, then 2009 is an unusually unlucky year. This week’s Friday the 13th is one of three to endure this year.


The first came last month. The next is in November. Such a rare triple-threat occurs only once every 11 years.


The origin of the link between bad luck and Friday the 13th is murky. The whole thing might date to Biblical times (the 13th guest at the Last Supper betrayed Jesus). By the Middle Ages, both Friday and 13 were considered bearers of bad fortune. In modern times, the superstition permeates society.


Here are five of our favorite Friday-the-13th facts:


1. Fear of Friday the 13th – one of the most popular myths in science – is called paraskavedekatriaphobia as well as friggatriskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13.


2. Many hospitals have no room 13, while some tall buildings skip the 13th floor and some airline terminals omit Gate 13.


3. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and President Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.


4. Mark Twain once was the 13th guest at a dinner party. A friend warned him not to go. “It was bad luck,” Twain later told the friend. “They only had food for 12.” Superstitious diners in Paris can hire a quatorzieme, or professional 14th guest.


5. The number 13 suffers from its position after 12, according to numerologists who consider the latter to be a complete number – 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas and 12 eggs in a dozen.


Pythagorean legacy


Meanwhile the belief that numbers are connected to life and physical things – called numerology – has a long history.


“You can trace it all the way from the followers of Pythagoras, whose maxim to describe the universe was ‘all is number,'” says Mario Livio, an astrophysicist and author of “The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved” (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Thinkers who studied under the famous Greek mathematician combined numbers in different ways to explain everything around them, Livio said.


In modern times, numerology has become a type of para-science, much like the meaningless predictions of astrology, scientists say.


“People are subconsciously drawn towards specific numbers because they know that they need the experiences, attributes or lessons associated with them, that are contained within their potential,” says professional numerologist Sonia Ducie. “Numerology can ‘make sense’ of an individual’s life (health, career, relationships, situations and issues) by recognizing which number cycle they are in, and by giving them clarity.”


However, mathematicians dismiss numerology, saying it lacks any scientific merit.


“I don’t endorse this at all,” Livio said, when asked to comment on the popularity of commercial numerology. Seemingly coincidental connections between numbers will always appear if you look hard enough, he said.

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

“Suddenly, it may be cool to be American again…”

I read this story on Yahoo! yesterday, and I just had to put it here on the blog to share just in case you haven’t had the chance to read it yet. It’s an article written by an abroad journalist who, thanks to the historical election of Barack Obama to the presidency, has been warmedly received by natives of Europe. He goes on to talk about how in the past five years or so, as our country’s global perception has tanked, he has had to disguise himself to cover his “American-ness” in order to feel more safe.

My recent personal experience earlier this year only confirms the often harsh treatment Americans may have experienced abroad. My case wasn’t as extreme as Europeans hurling beer bottles at my head, but it was perhaps just as biting.

During Spring Break this past March, My two travel buddies, Tom and Bobby, and I entered a London convenience store after taking the train from Luton. We were in awe of how different things were, looking at products such as lynx body spray (their version of axe) and strange looking and conspicuously phallic Fanta bottles. As we go up to the counter to pay, we noticed that the guy at the register was Middle Eastern. So we were just talking as he scanned our items when he asks a bit aggressively, “So, you guys are from the USA?” We replied that we were. Then he shocks us. He replies, “Oh really? I’m from the USA too.” SO we were like, No way? From where? to which he smugly replied, “The United States of Afghanistan.” We didn’t really know what to do. We just kind of awkwardly nodded, got our stuff, and walked out waiting to explode in laughter. But for the most part, we weren’t met with too much animocity. Though wherever we went, hostels, airports, and tourist attractions, people would be quick to denounce our govenment, but wanted to talk to us to see how our way of life was.

So yeah, here’s the story, it’s a good read!

VIENNA, Austria – She was a stranger, and she kissed me. Just for being an American.

It happened on the bus on my way to work Wednesday morning, a few hours after compatriots clamoring for change swept Barack Obama to his historic victory. I was on the phone, and the 20-something Austrian woman seated in front of me overheard me speaking English.

Without a word, she turned, pecked me on the cheek and stepped off at the next stop.

Nothing was said, but the message was clear: Today, we are all Americans.

For longtime U.S. expatriates like me — someone far more accustomed to being targeted over unpopular policies, for having my very Americanness publicly assailed — it feels like an extraordinary turnabout.

Like a long journey over a very bumpy road has abruptly come to an end.

And it’s not just me.

An American colleague in Egypt says several people came up to her on the streets of Cairo and said: “America, hooray!” Others, including strangers, expressed congratulations with a smile and a hand over their hearts.

Another colleague, in Amman, says Jordanians stopped her on the street and that several women described how they wept with joy.

When you’re an American abroad, you can quickly become a whipping post. Regardless of your political affiliation, if you happen to be living and working overseas at a time when the United States has antagonized much of the world, you get a lot of grief.

You can find yourself pressed to be some kind of apologist for Washington. And you can wind up feeling ashamed and alone.

I’ll never forget a ride in a taxi in Vienna when the world was waking up to the abuses wrought by U.S. troops at the detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

My driver, a Muslim, was indignant. “You are American, yes?” he asked in that accusatory tone so familiar to many expats.

“Uh, no, Canadian,” I said.

And it wasn’t the first time I fudged where I was from. I speak three foreign languages, so I have a bit of flexibility when it comes to faking. At various times, I’ve been a German in Serbia, a Frenchman in Turkey, a Dutchman in Austria.

I’m not proud of it. But when you’re far from home, and you’re feeling cornered, you develop what you come to believe are survival skills.

Last spring, after the Bush administration recognized Kosovo’s independence, a Serb who overheard my American-accented English lobbed a beer can at me in central Vienna. He missed, but spat out an unflattering “Amerikanac” and told me where to go.

On another occasion, an Austrian who heard my teenage daughter chatting with a friend pursued her, screaming, “Go Home!”

Physical attacks on Americans overseas are rare. Yet some of us felt vaguely at risk.

Maybe it was just the hostility we’d encounter even in friendly venues such as cocktail parties, when our foreign hosts would surround us and demand to know why U.S. troops were roughing up inmates at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Or refusing to sign the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Or rejecting the Kyoto accord on climate change.

Maybe it was the State Department, which issues regular travel advisories urging Americans to keep a low profile even in tranquil Austria.

Often, of course, I’ve pushed back — reminding critics that most Americans are decent and generous souls, quick to respond with money and manpower whenever and wherever in the world catastrophe may strike.

My children came of age in Europe, and in a hostile post-9/11 world we had to teach them to avoid being too conspicuously American. Don’t speak English loudly on the subway. Don’t wear baseball caps and tennis shoes. Don’t single yourselves out, guys, and even worldly wise Americans can unwittingly become targets.

We didn’t overdo it, but there’s always been that tension. That difficult-to-describe sense of vulnerability. That nagging instinct that maybe we’d better watch it, because our government is intensely unpopular and we’re not entirely welcome.

I know Americans who at times have felt that way even in laid-back Vienna, where the greatest danger is probably eating a bad pastry.

That’s what made Wednesday’s unsolicited kiss so remarkable.

I don’t want to read too much into an innocent smooch, but it didn’t feel particularly pro-Obama, even though the new U.S. president-elect enjoys broad support here. No, it seemed to impart two sentiments I haven’t felt for a long time: friendship and admiration.

Obama captured it in his acceptance speech — this sense that despite holding America’s feet to the fire, the rest of the world is rooting for it and wants it to lead and succeed.

“Our destiny is shared,” he said, “and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”

Overnight, Americans did something their harshest critics in Europe have yet to do: elect a person of color as head of state and commander in chief. That gives U.S. citizens some bragging rights, even if a lot of us would just as soon eschew hubris and embrace humility.

I’m a marathon runner, and I have a red, white and blue singlet that I’ve seldom dared to wear on the Continent. Marathons are difficult enough without enduring catcalls and jeers from spectators.

But my best friend and training partner — who is French — just gave me his stamp of approval.

“Will you wear your Stars and Stripes shirt now? You’re allowed!” he told me

smallheap.jpg image by jmooser

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451

For many fans of Ray Bradbury, this line resonates (and perhaps continues to resonate anytime they see a book) in the minds and hearts of all who contemplate the future of published literature, especially with the current explosion of growth of paperless technology. The opening line of Fahrenheit 451 eeriely introduces the destruction of books, and leaves an indeliable implication of future. One of my favorite books. The movie version, made in 1966, starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie… not so much. THANKFULLY, (I happened to stumble upon this, because I wondered the rating of the 1966 movie which you can read about here) they are remaking it! I am definitely curious how it will turn out with today’s creativity and technology, as well as acting talent. It is slated for a 2010 release, and you can keep up with it on the Fahrenheit 451 (2010) page.

Of course, what REALLY sparked my interest was a list a found on Yahoo: Top 30 Sci-Fi Films of All Time.

If you check it out, there are some really surprising choices (as well as sci-fi staples). What really baffled me was the positioning of some of the choices, as well as obvious films which weren’t included. In the upcoming days, Chaz, the movie expert of the heap. and myself will try to right the wrong, and come up wth our own list, so make sure you come back! And if you want, leave a comment about movies that you want to see on the list, feel shouldn’t be on the list, or about the positioning of movies on the list!


Article of the Day


I had to share this with all you heapsters. out there. I found this article on Yahoo!. I highly recommend reading it, as it is extremely well written. In short, it’s about a couple’s relatively peaceful protest of the erecting of a giant mall next to where they lived! Many in a similar situation would be lighting up the phone lines of city offices or perhaps plan some sort of picketing at the construction site. Noooo, this couple actually finds an abandoned crevice in the mall and they move in to study the concept of the mall: the people, employees and of course, the evident commercialism/ consumerism (which go hand in hand).

(Lisa Selin Davis)

Monday night, millions gathered around the television to watch an event years in the making. No, I’m not talking about the Olympics. Rather, Monday night was the premiere of “The American Mall,” MTV’s “High School Musical” rip-off in which teenage dramas unfold under the dizzying fluorescents of a food court. It’s a story, so says the promo, about a place we all love, where everything is for sale but love and dreams. […]

In 2003, inside a 750-foot storage space, abandoned since construction days, they crafted a secret apartment within the mall from which they could study its allure. Why do so many of us flock to the mall’s sanitized hallways? Why do we love the sameness of mall life, identical shops and structures across the country? Why is the mall the site of our grievances, the place where gunmen go to inflict maximum pain? Earlier this year, a man set off an explosion in a mall in Exeter, England. The week before, a woman was shot in one. […]

To read the rest of the article, click HERE!.


Just a Little Off the Top I


Finally, a non-sports related post! This segment, as you can read, is called “Just a Little Off the Top.” No, we won’t be covering haircuts here at the heap., unless it happens to be the topic of one of the bizarre, “off-beat'” stories I find in my internet reading. Today we have a story from Nevada, having to do with… ecosystem-threatening frogs? The story comes from Yahoo! News, and was written by the AP.

119 illegal African clawed frogs seized in Nevada

RENO, Nev. – State wildlife officials raided three residences in the Reno area where they seized more than 100 African clawed frogs, which they say are prohibited because they can pose a serious danger to native frogs and entire ecosystems.

No charges have been filed against the people who illegally possessed a total of 119 frogs because they are cooperating fully with law enforcement to “get any and all prohibited frogs off the streets,” the Nevada Department of Wildlife said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are very pleased we were able to seize them before they were circulated to people in the area and possibly escaped into the wild,” said Cameron Waithman, game warden captain for NDOW’s Division of Law Enforcement.

African clawed frogs grow about as large as bullfrogs and can destroy entire ecosystems by voraciously eating native fish, amphibians and just about anything they can swallow, he said.

Scientists also believe these frogs carry and spread an African fungus that has decimated frog populations worldwide, Waithman said. The frog carries the fungus on its skin and is immune to its deadly effects.

Because of the danger the frogs pose, people who knowingly possess such amphibians face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine, he said.

“If people turn these frogs in voluntarily, we don’t have an interest in writing them tickets,” said Waithman.

“However, if we find even more people involved with keeping and selling these frogs, we will prosecute at the conclusion of our investigations. These amphibians really are a threat to Nevada, and we have a duty to seize any and all that we find.”

The African clawed frog was used in hospitals in the 1940s and 1950s as a way to detect pregnancy in women. It produces eggs when injected with the urine of a pregnant woman.

Scientists say the fungus on the frogs works like a parasite that makes it difficult for the frogs to use their pores, quickly causing them to die of dehydration. It has been linked to the extinction of amphibians from Australia to Costa Rica.

Japan reported its first cases of frog deaths from the fungus in January 2007, prompting research groups to declare an emergency in the country. On the Caribbean island of Dominica, the fungus has almost wiped out the mountain chicken, a frog species considered an island delicacy.

First of all, I can’t believe there MAY be a black market for things like African Clawed Frogs. It seems like you can purchase anything these days. These amphibians are pretty nasty. Usually, when you think of frogs, you have that lovely image from various cartoons of these creatures that try to nab flies with the pinpoint accuracy of their tongues. More often than not we’d see some sort of comical conclusion- the tongue hitting something else, or perhaps even the frog itself becoming entangled in it. Noooo, these aren’t your average goofy frogs. They are hardcore carnivorous predators and serve as a carrier for epidermal disease. And according to the article, and the Wikipedia entry for the African Clawed Frog, these bad boys can disrupt entire ecosystems!


I’d have to say that my favorite line comes from the second paragraph, with the psuedo-serious line “getting any and all prohibited frogs off the streets.” Like they are some crazy fugitives on the loose. Would these frogs count as illegal immigrants? I guess we’ll just send them back to Africa. Good thing this occurred in Nevada and not Texas. Guaranteed these frogs would have a one way ticket to execution. Maybe we shouldn’t be so harsh. I mean, maybe some desperate couples were trying to save a buck or two on pregnancy tests. See? Not so impractical after all.