There are certain dangers on the calendar that we're pretty well warned about: Never take candy from strangers on Halloween if that candy is clearly made of razorblades, don't play with fireworks on the Fourth of July if your idea of playing with things is lighting them on fire and putting them down your pants. But there are other days that come around every year that nobody warns you about. Which is a shame, because they want to kill you in creative ways you'll never see coming.
Two hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin invented daylight savings time when his after dinner orgies grew too large to successfully navigate in the dark. These days, the lost hour of sleep is big news in the world of the Cathy comic strip, but it doesn't really faze the rest of us. Right?
Cathy does not want to hear it until she's had her morning coffee.
Actually, that single lost hour of sleep knows 50 different ways to kill a man with its bare goddamn hands. Thanks to the 20th century's invention of "stuff to do," Americans today average an hour and a half less sleep than we did a hundred years ago. In fact, we're so sleep deprived that Transportation Officials can pretty much set their watch to a statistical spike in fatal car accidents the Monday following the spring forward.
And just embarrassing ones.
You're basically drunk all day, and contrary to what your body and Cathy might tell you, you're not fine after the morning coffee. There's also "a significant increase in traffic fatalities in the latter half of the day" when people are driving home from work. In case you're bad at geometry, that also means you're also as good as drunk at work. A study of West Virginia coal miners found they were more likely to suffer "a serious work related accident" the week after the clock shift. There's even bad news for the small portion of our readership who aren't West Virginia coal miners. The "Spring forward" has been blamed for $31 billion in losses on Wall Street thanks to sleep deprived traders. You know, it might be time to switch to a less adorable mnemonic device for remembering Daylight Savings.
Every July 1st, hospitals across America are flooded with the newest batch of medical interns. Think the first episode of Scrubs, with JD's snappy internal monologues replaced by the phrase "Oh shit" on a continuous loop. According to a Harvard study, the medical industry's throw 'em to the wolves all at the same exact time approach to teaching results in "1,500 to 2,750 additional deaths" each July.
Before you start berating any doctor who doesn't look sufficiently dead in the eyes, that's actually the worst possible thing for you to do. There's a lot of paperwork required to get you from the emergency room to the cardiologist who knows why your heart appears to have the hiccups. Interns are well supervised, they just take longer to process paperwork, and perform other tasks. This means you spend more time in the hospital, which it turns out is just about the worst place to be provided you don't want to die.
"We can either keep you under observation for 24 hours, or you can roll around on the floor of a truck stop bathroom for a few minutes."
Anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die each year because of something they caught in the hospital, which is more than either motor vehicle crashes or breast cancer. By slowing things down, the new batch of interns ensure you get exposed to more "real" doctors whose hands, or more likely neckties, could be carrying some illness you can't pronounce from the wing where they keep people with the really scary shit.
First of all, suicide rates do not spike around Christmas, contrary to what our collective unconscious apparently wants to believe.
Also, none of these people have had impossible amounts of semen pumped from their stomachs.
But while the holidays don't sap our will to live, Christmas day is better than any other at murdering us. Between 1973 and 2001, Christmas Day netted 53 million deaths, making it the #1 killer on the calendar. And when you look at its weapons of choice, it's almost as though the entire tradition was intentionally calibrated to snuff you out with a quiet efficiency.
Picture a perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas morning. Family around a crackling fireplace, including Grandma and all the relatives. Mom fixes dad an egg nog while preparing the Christmas ham, just two of the many "traditional holiday foods" known outside of December as "the worst things you can put in your body that aren't a live hand grenade." You've got the Christmas presents under the tree that Dad spent all night putting together, and that Mom spent the past month freaking out about buying.
It's stress on top of stress, and that along with exhaustion is a great way to kill your heart. (By the way, you're also 11 percent more likely to die of a heart attack the Monday after the Spring Forward. Sorry, forgot to mention that).
Which brings us to the crackling fire, or as your heart calls it, "my chance to test drive the body of a pack a day smoker." According to a 1999 report on what cardiologists call the "holiday effect" (because "Silent Night, Deadly Night" was already taken by that 80s horror film) even "pollutants from wood-burning fireplaces trigger cardiovascular irregularities."
So according to science, you might be the only thing in your living room that's not trying to kill you this Christmas. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised by the mythical holiday depression after all. The most skillful murderers always make it look like a suicide.
Let's say you're having a New Year's party, and your friend who never got the hang of the whole "adulthood" thing has had one too many. As you see him staggering toward the door holding whichever dinner utensils he presently believes are the keys to his car, you're faced with a dilemma: Do you remind him that he left his keys in the kitchen when he was peeing in your stove?
This is where the echo chamber of news reports and 80s PSAs inside your head should be taking over, reminding you that drunk driving is the most dangerous thing you can do, especially on days like New Year's and the Fourth of July. Plus, he only lives a few blocks away, so you stay quiet, figuring the worst case scenario is someone bumps into him on the way home and gets peed on a little bit.
Actually, you were wrong to assume that nothing is worse than drunk driving.
And this is where the echo chamber of Steven Seagal trailers in your head should be saying "dead wrong."
New Year's Eve is also the #1 day of the year for drunk walking deaths and according to economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, "Doing the math, you find that on a per-mile basis, a drunk walker is eight times more likely to get killed than a drunk driver." In your friend's head, the empty 30 pack he's wearing as a helmet and the jock strap you convinced him wasn't on backwards provide all the protection he needs. But compared with the 3,000 pounds of speeding metal drunk drivers have wrapped around their body, your friend is at what's known in the world of splatter forensics as a strategic disadvantage.
Even when you take into account all the people drunk drivers plow into, Dunbar and Levitt say that "walking drunk leads to five times as many deaths per mile." This of course isn't to encourage drunk driving. Just to say that whether drunk or sober, there are certain times when walking is way more dangerous than you'd expect.
For instance, jogging, walking and any other show-offy habit that involves propelling oneself over land on foot is 350 percent more likely to get you killed during the first week of November, thanks to the fall-back half of daylight savings time. While the alarm on the joggers' stop watch tells them it's time to put on their ridiculous short shorts and hit the road at the usual time, the weekend shift means normal people are driving home from work in darker conditions than they're accustomed to. And let's face it, joggers, they're looking for any excuse.
Our ancestors probably had mating seasons just like the rest of the animals that they were trying to out breed. In an attempt to get a glimpse of what that might have looked like, researchers at Brown University studied rural African birth patterns and found "a tendency to have babies ... in the dry season after the harvest was complete." A 1987 Japanese study found what it considered a basic rhythm of human reproduction that peaks with a surge in Spring birthdays.
But in the words of the only doctor we trust on matters of reproduction, "Things done changed on this side."
Births in the United States begin rising in August and September and peak on October 5th, the most popular birthday in America. Not only is this a bad time in relation to the harvest, our birth rate dips exactly when births in Japan and Europe are peaking.
According to D.T. Arcieri, a biologist at Farmingdale State University in New York, the answer is simple: "The average pregnancy lasts 274 days. Oct. 5 ... is about 274 days from New Year's Eve, the day millions of Americans are celebrating with alcohol."
The American birth rates by month, AKA the "Hey, I'm not sure if you remember me from Todd's New Year's Party" Curve
So America's annual birth pattern went from being governed by concerns such as "availability of food" and "ability to help with the harvest" to considerations such as, "C'mon girl," and "It's not my fault, you were moving around too much."
Congratulations October babies!
There's an even crueler chaser to the holidays that are actually supposed to celebrate the before and after of the baby making equation: Valentine's and Mother's Day. What men refer to as holidays invented by the greeting card companies, women prefer to call, "the day I decide to start fucking other dudes."
Ashley Madison, the dating site for married people, typically sees 2,500 to 3,000 women sign up on an average Monday. On the day after Mother's Day last year, the site saw 31,427 new sign-ups.
According to the site's founder Noel Biderman , "Moms have high hopes that they'll be recognized on Mother's Day and often the breakfast in bed, flowers and massage never happens. Their disappointment drives them to consider other options." He stopped short of saying, "That's where I come in!" while making a thrusting motion with his hips.
If your wife was one of the 31,427 women who signed up to Ashley Madison, don't worry, there are other fish in the sea. As Biderman, the guy who made money off of destroying your family put it, "As a husband and father, I personally look forward to Mother's Day." Yes, there's a Mrs. Biderman. And we hear her husband is just super busy around Valentine's and Mother's Day.
Did you know your birthday can screw you life? Intelligent people generally agree that the alignment of the stars when you were born is approximately as important as what was on PBS at the time. But just because astrology is complete bullshit doesn't mean your birthday isn't plotting new, and creative ways to screw you.
Americans get a small taste of this in baseball. If your birthday is in late July, every time you struck out in Little League, it turns out you should have been the one throwing empty Budweisers at your dad. That's because the age cutoff for Little League is July 31st, meaning kids with August 1st birthdays were actually a year older you, meaning he porked you into existence at the worst time possible for your baseball career. And if you think that's a minor disadvantage, you should know that a July birthday makes you 50 percent less likely to make the Major Leagues.
"This kid swings like his parents did it in October."
This starts to make sense when think about how we figure out what we're good at. It's pretty much all guess and check. You try something out. If you like it, you keep trying it. If you suck at it, you dodge empty beer cans and move on to something else.
Where it starts to get downright terrifying in in places like Australia, Norway and the UK where the school system is run with the precision that Americans reserve for children throwing a ball around in the dirt. In those countries, a child born on the wrong side of their grade's cutoff day will be at a significant disadvantage in reading at age 16, less likely to get good grades and less likely to be university-bound. All because they have the wrong birthday.
When we go to a restaurant, most of us don't like to think about where the food is coming from. That's the point. You're putting the trust in the hands of a professional just like when you board a plane. Only commercial aircrafts aren't 35 percent more likely to crash during the summer, nor are pilots more likely to risk your life on Mondays--both chances you're taking every time you go out to eat on a Monday in the summer.
The 35 percent increase in food poisoning comes from the fact that microscopic organisms like warm climates just as much as we do. This is of course why most of us have refrigerators, and the meat and fish you buy at grocery stores spend most of their journey to your plate frozen solid. But restaurants are more likely to get meat and fish that hasn't been frozen from butchers and fish markets, to ensure the food tastes better. In his 2000 memoir about his time as the executive chef at some of New York's top restaurants, Anthony Bourdain describes the fish market where most Manhattan restaurants get their seafood.
And the problem isn't just Discount Sushi. As much as we don't like to think about it, restaurants are a business with notoriously thin margins. The ability to stay open can come down to how a restaurant does in a single weekend, when people are more likely to eat out. The problem is that most food providers don't deliver on the weekend, meaning a restaurant has to over estimate how much food to buy, or risk running out ...
Which rarely happens.
This brings us to Mondays in the summer, when the chef has a fridge full of days old fish and meat. Thanks to the hot weather, most of it was a risky proposition when it arrived in the kitchen. But if he throws it out, he risks not having a job the following Monday. So according to Bourdain, what happens instead is the chef creates a "special" dish designed to unload the ingredients that are starting to smell funny. That special dish gets printed up, inserted into the menu. Hell, the waiter even offers to "tell you about the specials," presumably because they don't feel quite as bad about poisoning people who need to have the menu read to them.
Suicide is a big deal, and most of us assume that the people who kill themselves recognize this fact. It's the most important decision you make in life other than who to marry and what your high school yearbook quote is.
So what day could possibly make us almost twice as likely to kill ourselves than any other?
Not Christmas. Not the day after taxes are due. Wednesday.
What the hell is so bad about Wednesday? It's far away from the weekend, sure. And it's pretty annoying when the lady from work calls it hump day. But it's not put-a-gun-in-your-mouth annoying. She's a woman, and she's using the word hump in a sentence.
Actually, the best explanation researchers were able to come up with for the spike boils down to: The weekend is far away on both sides, and works got you down. In fact, there's no shortage of statistics showing that many suicides are less the result of a profound philosophical problem and more a temporary fart of the soul that would have passed if they'd just given it a night or two to air out.
Take the British coal-gas story, famous among suicide experts (whose children tend not to invite them to career day). For the first half of the 20th century, the preferred method of suicide in Britain was "sticking ones head in the oven," where the coal gas delivered a swift, fatal dose of CO2. When the British government transitioned to a more efficient fuel that, as a happy coincidence, couldn't kill you, the suicide rate for the entire country dropped by a third, and has stayed there ever since.
"I'd quite fancy dying, but I'm not willing to travel more than nine feet to do it."
A similar thing happened in the state of Washington, where statewide jumping suicides were cut in half by raising the guard rails on one bridge. At the Golden Gate Bridge, the world's most popular suicide destination, 515 people were grabbed by cops mid suicide attempt between the years of 1937 and 1971. A researcher in the late 70s tracked these troubled souls down, and found that only six percent went on to kill themselves.
This isn't to deny that there are people in the world who have profoundly difficult problems. It just indicates that for 94 percent, ceasing to exist only seems worth it for a remarkably brief window of time. So whatever day of the week it is, if you're thinking of doing something drastic, it's probably a temporary trick of the mind. Sleep on it. If you still feel like jumping off a bridge in the morning, maybe give it until the holidays. Christmas will be happy to do the job for you.
Special thanks to Fitzgerald Smith for the totes awesome research he put into this article.
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For other widely believed notions with deadly implications, check out 5 Drinking Myths That Can Kill You. Or find out about some ways Mother Nature wants you dead, in 5 Bizarre Ways the Weather Can Kill You Without Warning.
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