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Updated: 02/14/05

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Monday, 14 February, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day. How about a brief history lesson? According to The History Channel, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. I shall summarize.

The most common story is that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed "From your Valentine."

Why February 14th? Some say it was to commemorate either the birth or death of Valentine. Others claim that the Christian church may have decided to celebrate Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "christianize" celebrations of the pagan Lupercalia festival. Lupercalia, which began February 15, was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. This particular festival included all the fun pagan trappings: sacred caves, sacrificial goats, and smacking the local populace and fields with strips of bloody goat meat to increase their fertility - hilarity all around, I'm sure.

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 498 A.D. Later, during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February -- Valentine's Day -- should be a day for romance.

Another theory is that Valentine's Day didn't come from the Romans but the Normans. [Romans, Normans, Tomato, tomato.] The word "galatine" means "Lover of Women," but it was close enough to "valentine" to cause people to think of St. Valentine as the special saint of love.

Whatever the origin, it is now number two on the Hallmark Hit Parade of Cards. Christmas is number one, but according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year.

- The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. The greeting, which was written in 1415, is part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.
- In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century.
- By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes.
- By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.
- Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.
- In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America.
- Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women.

Chocolate? I got your chocolate. While 75% of chocolate purchases are made by women all year long, during the days and minutes before Valentine's Day, 75% of the chocolate purchases are made by men. Over $1 billion of chocolate is purchased for Valentine's Day - an estimated 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are expected to be sold.

What else - flowers, of course. Valentine's Day is the top sales day for florists, according to the Society of American Florists. Men purchase more than half of the flowers sold. The most popular flower in the Valentine bouquet is the rose, accounting for 57 percent of cut flower sales. And around this time of year, roses carry a steep price -- $50 to $90 for a dozen.

But just in case Valentine's Day doesn't cut it for you, here are some alternative events to celebrate. Today is:

- Read To Your Child Day
- Ferris Wheel Day (commemorating the birthday of George Ferris, inventor of said wheel)
- National Have-a-Heart Day
- National Random Acts of Kindness Day
- Trifon Zarezan (Viticulturists' Day; Bulgarian Dionysus Festival)
- National Cream-Filled Chocolates Day (like they really needed something other than Valentine's Day here?)
- Cat Festival (not sure where this is - every day is Cat Festival Day in our house)

Also on this day, Captain Cook was killed by the Hawaiians in 1779, Oregon and Arizona were admitted to the Union as the 33rd (1859) and 48th states (1912), respectively, the first porpoise was born in captivity and the telephone was patented in the US.

So there ya go. Pick one or several and knock yourself out.

[Happy National Cardiovasular Technologists Recognition Day]

Speaking of celebrations, Happy Birthday to my boyfriends Ian and Connor!! The boys turned four today and apparently had a great time at their birthday party yesterday. That according to their dad, David who spent his birthday (yesterday) celebrating with a bunch of four year olds. And a Happy Belated Birthday to Jon who spends much of his time hanging around people who act like four year olds.

[Except Eva, John K and me, of course].

And now for something completely different. The cry of environmentalists everywhere is cutting down on our use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately alternative energy sources seem to have quite a few problems, so the immediate key would be reducing the need for fossil fuels. Varifrank has a terrific essay on what seems to be a logical idea - whether Corporate America can/will actually buy into this on a large scale is the real trick.

Once while watching TV and seeing a Dodge Ram pickup commercial, my brother-in-law began to opine about the obvious fuel inefficiency of Dodge pickups and what a fool anyone would be to buy one. He offered that anyone who didn’t buy a Honda was an idiot, as only Hondas could get decent gas mileage, and thus were the only cars “good for the environment”. I then reminded him of something he knew, that I owned a Dodge pickup and that he had parked right next to it in the driveway. After he acknowledged that I then told him something he didn’t want to hear.

“My Dakota is more efficient than you Honda”, I said.

He laughed back and said to me in mid guffaw that there was no way that could possibly be true. The poor bastard didn’t know he was being set up.

“When was the last time you bought gas?” I asked him. He said he bought gas on a weekly basis, and a tank of gas is 12 gallons. I told him I had not bought gas in 8 weeks, and my tank held 18 gallons and as a result, it was clear that My V-8, 5 speed manual transmission Dodge Dakota was more efficient than was his Honda.

You see, My Brother-in-law used his Honda to go to work. His work was 40 miles from home and it took him 90 minutes and two bridge crossings to get from where he lived to where he worked.

He traveled all that way to sit in a standard office cubicle farm, where he would have a networked company PC and telephone. He worked with no one at that office, as most of his contacts were actually other companies and other employees around the globe. His management team was actually in London.

My manager is based on the east coast. His manager is in another state. The Vice President of our division is not an American. Our customer base is globally and in every country except North Korea, Libya and Iran. I work at home. My commute is exactly 14 steps down my stairs into my office. I rarely drive a car for work, unless I’m going to the airport for a trip out of town, which is becoming more and more rare as remote access technology advances with the times.

Go read the whole thing. Since the majority of the time most people spend in their cars is going to/from their jobs, the amount of fuel use declines. This does not apply to people like Gary, who have to be physically present to do their jobs. Or mechanics, or hair dressers, or waiters. But for many of us who work in office buildings doing financial services work or the like, there is really no reason that our work cannot be done from home.

I think there is a reluctance on the part of corporations to go really "remote". The feeling is that your employees won't work as hard as they do if you make them come to the office. Maybe that is true for some, but I would think that it would be out-weighed by the cost savings for the company. For me, I find that the times I work from home can be far more productive. Two years ago, I returned from a trip to Papua New Guinea - via Singapore and Hong Kong - right in the middle of the SARS epidemic. My office phoned and asked me to work from home for a week, to make sure I didn't pass along any infections to my colleagues.

It was great. Being jet-lagged, I would wake up early, get on the computer and do some work, responding to e-mails, setting up conference calls, etc. By early afternoon, when the jet-lag took over again, I could take a nap. I was still working at least an eight-hour day, if not more. But I also wasn't spending an hour or so getting to and from the office, or going out for a lunch break.

My job is mostly computer work, e-mail and telephone calls. Face-to-face is needed at times for our markets and more importantly our clients, but often that involves traveling to another city anyway. I don't think it makes sense to totally give up on a collective office location yet, since that kind of bonding is important to the corporate pysche, and a total shift to remote workplaces may take some adjustment. But perhaps in the interim, we could stagger the days when people will be in, sharing office space.

Eventually, I think this could catch on. It would allow a better lifestyle for many people, and reduce the costs for many companies. But there would be some interesting knock-on changes, not all of which are good:

Child care - many families may decide that they do not need to take the kids to a daycare center, or at least not every day. This may be problematic for some people, depending on how much time their child-care duties take, and I think that it might be one of the biggest challenges. My opinion is that if everyone gets their work done on time and is able to meet the needs of the company that employs them, I don't need them to be on-call for the same eight hours every day. If they need to be present on a conference call or to take care of a client's problem, then they need to be available.

Mass transportation - Mass transportation is designed to be an alternative to people driving. But if a large percentage of the masses don't need to drive, then the mass transportation infrastructure will be in jeopardy. Those people that do need to continue using it will have to pay higher fares to support the system with a smaller customer base. Many of those people are those that can least afford it, so there will likely need to be some form of government/corporate subsidy.

Urban retail stores and restaurants - In a city, there are hundreds of stores and restaurants that cater to the people that come into the city to work. Large corporate chains like Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts and Au Bon Pain would definitely feel the pain. Restaurants that focus on business clientele would find their available market reduced. Retail stores - already facing pressure from the internet - would lose that segment of the customer base that shops on their lunch breaks or before/after work. Where will these people work?

Office Space - Most tall office buildings are populated by people in jobs that can increasingly be done remotely. With companies requiring less space (if any) in downtown areas, the need for new buildings reduces, having effects on the construction industry. The flip side is that there would be a bigger move away from urban areas, prompting building in locations much further removed from the downtown centers. What about receptionists and administrative assistants? I would expect that many companies would not need them, or at least not in the same capacity.

Cities - Generally speaking, I think this would have a horrible effect on cities. Philadelphia has a "city wage tax" of (I think) about 4 percent of income. It's more for me since I live in town, but if people didn't have to work in the city, the tax base would decrease. That would mean several things: increased pressure on other forms of tax revenue - property taxes, school taxes, sales tax, and the resident city tax and reduced services, including police and public services. As the tax base declines and takes services with it, those who can move out will. Especially since the retail services will be struggling to provide the entertainment incentive to be in the city.

The 'Burbs - I suppose that if this does come to be the business model of the future, the key for many office employees will be proximity to the airport. Where can I live that will give me the best home value and life-style amenities within a reasonable distance to a major airport. Suburbs may become relative to transportation hubs - and that may be a chicken/egg equation. Families in which both spouses are remote workers have a great deal of flexibility. If one spouse is tied to a "brick-and-mortar" job, that will need to be the more important factor.

When I read Varifrank's essay, my initial reaction was that I hope this comes to pass. But as I considered some of the ripple effects something like this would have - just in Philly alone - I can certainly see that there are rather large social issues that would need to be considered.

[But I could consider them from home.]

Back to Valentine's Day. Right on the heels of their "free democratic elections" last week - no women, of course - Saudi Arabia has banned red flowers:

The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's powerful religious vigilantes, have banned shops from selling any red flowers in the run-up to February 14.

Florists say the move is part of an annual campaign by the committee -- whose members are known as "mutawwaeen" or volunteers -- to prevent Saudis marking a festival they believe flouts their austere doctrine of "Wahhabi" Islam.

"For the last week, we've had no red in the shop," said Ahmed, a flower shop manager. "You can't even have red cards." Despite the prohibition, demand for the banned roses has been strong and unofficial business was booming, Ahmed said.

"Wait 10 minutes," he told one customer as an assistant slipped into the shadows to collect a bouquet of crimson flowers. At 10 riyals ($2.70) each they were double the usual price. "They would put us in prison for this," he smiled.

[Glad they have their priorities straight.]

Quote du jour:

"I feel bad for people who die on Valentine's Day. How much would flowers cost then, ten grand?"

-- Jay Leno (American TV host and comedian, b.1950)

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