14 February 2011


Valentine's Day is upon us -- the day set aside to celebrate the "love and affection between intimate companions" which ideally should happen daily. A friend on Facebook posted the following -- "Happy, Unimaginative, Consumerist-Oriented, and Entirely Arbitrary, Manipulative and Shallow Interpretation of Romance Day. Yep, it's here again. That one day of the year when couples assess the love and affection their significant others feel for them based on the presents they get or the events planned in their honor." Which may sound cynical, but there is truth to her feelings about the hype and commercialization. But I'm a romantic as well as a cynic, so I can enjoy the day with eyes open.

As with so many holidays in Christian tradition, the idea (or at least the timing) of V-Day is probably stolen from another, more "pagan" culture, in this case the archaic Roman rite of fertility known as Lupercalia. Plagiarism is a fact of life -- in the theater, in music, in literature, in politics. We all are influenced by, and derive inspiration from, those who preceded us. Sir Isaac Newton famously observed that "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants."

Here are a few moments which hopefully will rouse a smile -- the possible origin of the Valentine's heart, links to Valentine's-inspired science blog posts, and an xkcd cartoon which made me think "aaaww."

It happens that on Valentine's Day in 1912, Arizona became the 48th state and the last of the contiguous states admitted to the union. As I was finishing Army basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington, our platoon sergeant assembled our four squads to announce where each soldier had been assigned for AIT (advanced individual training). When he reached my name on the roster, he quirked a smile, looked at me and said, "Fort Huachuca, Arizona. That's where you can go AWOL and be gone for three days, and they can still see you." Thankfully, his joke was based on the popular misconception that the desert is a flat and sterile place. Actually the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona is lushly teeming with life which has adapted to hot and arid conditions. I was so taken by its clean, otherworldly beauty that after leaving the Army, I moved back and spent the next twenty years in and around Tucson. But that's another story. (Click on images to enlarge.)

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