Originally Published in Ariadne’s Thread 1999


Love inspires grand feats in art,  music, and valiant action. The Great Trojan War, according to Homer, was fought for the love of Helen. St. Valentine’s Day is the day on which we celebrate and honor love. St. Valentine served a prison term in Rome for being Christian. While imprisoned, he received letters of support from children. These letters later became valentines. Truly, how noble to juxtapose the feast day of a saint, one who epitomizes the love of Christ, with a day to celebrate and honor love in general. The thought is truly sincere, but so easily corrupted. Easily corrupted by the master of corruption. On a day, with a slight hint of Christianity behind it, where the grandest of all virtues, the virtue of love is celebrated, people willingly flock to it. People make grand pronouncements of the virtue of love. What these poor unsuspecting souls don’t realize is they are being lured into the most insidious trap of sin ever devised.

Love is but one virtue. On St. Valentine’s Day, the Seven Deadly Sins ride piggyback on this one virtue, corrupting the souls of the innocent. Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Envy and Pride are all actively used on this one day. If one of these sins doesn’t get someone, another will. It is for this reason, Valentine’s Day is considered Satan’s birthday. Yet another reason why red is the popular color of this holiday. And because of this revelation, Valentine’s Day should be called, Valloween, so the innocent know what they are getting into and the already corrupt can fully enjoy the festival of evil.


The complete perversion of love, lust is a desire for pure carnal delight. Lust is the realm of the satyr: wanton sex without any care or love beyond the moment. Lust drives the typical person to do the most horrific things: lie, threaten, cajole, cheat and debase. The lust filled mind cannot see past the moment of physical pleasure to the damage that might be caused because of the action. Consequences are meaningless to the lustful.

The couple caught in the hype of Valentine’s Day rarely; if ever celebrate the different types of love, focusing on the carnal type only. Most people in relationships expect to have sex on Valentine’s Day. Look at the merchandise that is sold during this time period: lingerie, massage oil, incense and other elements of an evening wrought with sex. At any point in time, will the couple stop and appreciate the Love of Wisdom or the Love of Nature? No, the Love of Carnal Desire, or Lust will blind them, urging them to eat through the edible underwear quicker than ever. A couple with a rocky relationship will even convince themselves there isn’t a problem with the relationship for a chance at one more game of slap and tickle in the sack.


Sloth is the sin of inaction and laziness. It is difficult to see how this relates to a day on which it is customary to do something. It is precisely because something is done, is expected and so cleanly scripted that sloth is encouraged. The basic fact that the action is so well scripted: “romantic dinner (with or without candles), roses, wine, card and cutesy gift” means no mental energy is expended. But what occurs leading up to and after Valentine’s Day is where the true sloth takes place. Knowing a day is coming on which love will be acted upon, no action takes place beforehand. Flowers are not delivered, tender moments are not shared, plans are left unmade all because of this one day. “I don’t have to show I care because next week I’ll demonstrate my love through a formulaic evening resulting in my getting laid.”


The overindulgence in food is almost a forgotten sin. Gluttony is not eating until sated. Gluttony is more about eating because you can. On Valentine’s Day, the average adult will eat more chocolate than any other day simply because it is readily available. The dinners eaten will be more extravagant than at any other time of the year. “Steaks marinated in aged cider, served with julienne green beans and brandied pears. For desert, a chocolate torte served with a white chocolate gelato scoop covered with red raspberry syrup.” A meal like this, if served to anyone at any other time of the year, would be turned down as being too rich, too indulgent.


King Lear: Which of you shall We say doth love Us most?
Goneril: Sir, I love you more than eyesight, space and liberty; Beyond what can be valued rich or rare; No less than life, with grace, health, beauty, honour; As much as child e’er loved, or father found; A love that makes breath poor and speech unable; Beyond all manner of so much I love you.
King Lear: What says Our second daughter, Our dearest Regan, wife of Cornwallis? Speak.
Regan: Sir, I am made of the same metal that my sister is. And prize me at her worth. In my true heart I find she names my very deed of love; only she comes too short: That I profess Myself an enemy to all joys, which the most precious squares of sense possesses; and find I am alone felicitate in your dear highness’ love.
King Lear: Now Our joy, Although the last, not least. . .what can you say to draw a third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.
Cordelia: Nothing, my Lord.
King Lear: Nothing!
Cordelia: Nothing.
– William Shakespeare King Lear

It is difficult to imagine how one day could possibly enhance greed beyond the normal day-to-day level.

Christmas is lambasted for promoting greed, but something about Christmas is it is constantly reminding us to give, share, and appreciate the thought behind the gift. Valentine’s Day is nothing like that. It is about ‘the gift’ not the sentiment. The gift, the material item is supposed to represent the emotion. On one day, love is measured by worldly goods. How sick is this? The expectation of the gift is also pretty overblown. “This is the year I’m getting the diamond.” “Paris will be lovely!” “I’ve emailed my lover my Amazon wish list.” Expectation of roses, candy, perfume, jewelry, lingerie, and other carefully scripted gifts drives a buying frenzy.

Men and women, knowing their purchases are going to be used against them as a sign of how much love they have for their partner, are pushed into nervous breakdowns. Like King Lear, people cannot just accept the love given, they want it quantified.


Even after all the motions have been made, the “perfect evening (candle lit dinner, dancing, and a long moon lit walk)” planned, anger pokes its nasty little head into the evening. Someone’s nerves get frayed from trying so hard, breaking their budget or being under appreciated. Like a vicious pitbull, that person snaps, makes a critical comment, contradicts the partner or becomes silent trying not to ruin the evening. An argument ensues. A number of relationships will end on Valentine’s Day, a good number due to the pressure of the day that causes minor faults to become gigantic fractures. The interesting this is the number of relationships which will not end that should because of lust. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Satan’s favorite conundrum.


The sin of envy is not just admiring what others have but wanting it for yourself so much it preoccupies your time and energy. This would include the envy of those people in relationships. The insidious nature of Valentine’s Day is it not only corrupts people in love, but people without partners in that noble emotion. Single people don’t find themselves immediately alone on this day. That would be bearable. No, they are bombarded with the fact they are alone for the entire season. Local papers begin running ads for romantic getaways or review the ‘Best Date’ movies. Lessons on how to care for the flowers you are guaranteed to get abound in magazines, news shows, and office break rooms.

Eventually, the single person becomes envious of anyone in a relationship, no matter how horrible that relationship is. The desire may even combine with lust to create a lethal sin cocktail, a potion guaranteed to cure sanity.


More people damn themselves through pride than any other sin, at least according to recent popular representations of Satan in movies and TV. Satan’s greatest personal sin was one of pride. Pride led him to betray the Holy Father. People of prominence are easily affected by pride. The desire to win at all costs is a desire born of pride. Pride creates selfishness. Pride creates egotism and megalomania. Authoritarianism is a product of pride, as is extreme nationalism. Like gluttony, the sin of pride is about taking some thing too far. Having a good sense of self worth is not sinful. A desire to be successful is not sinful. Even being pleased with your accomplishments is not sinful. The sin of pride takes hold when the self worth is considered greater than anyone else’s. Valentine’s Day is filled with pride. It is the one day people are supposed to ignore the problems that exist within the relationship. If couples would celebrate the true accomplishments of their relationship, that would be one thing. Instead, on this one day, couples pretend they are living in a fairy tale romance. The sin of pride leads them to denial. In order to create the illusion of a perfect romance, lies will be told to one’s partners and to one’s self.

The sin of pride also works inside the relationship. At times, the lie developed begins to be believed by one partner or the other. That partner thinks the relationship is succeeding because of the effort that partner is exerting. One or both partners will take on an elevated sense of self-worth demanding more and more attention, material and praise from the other. Of course the natural repercussion of this is resentment and anger. The elevated sense of self worth, puffed up from the lies and self deception only increases the sin of greed, as the desire for material representation of worth is increased.

Seven deadly sins are all well represented in one fashion or another on a day that is a holiday. The wise and pious will carefully avoid the pitfalls of this evil day. They know that what is being honored isn’t love, but sin. The truly pious will revere the day as a day to honor all the types of love: the love of a friend or family member, the love of a romantic partner, the love of wisdom, and the love of nature. The way in which love is honored is not through material goods but through acknowledgment and nurturing. The wise and pious will tell friends and family how much they are appreciated. Romantic partners will do something nice for each other. To honor the love of wisdom, perhaps the wise and pious will reread Plato’s Phaedrus. And to honor the love of nature, instead of hacking flowers down to rot in a vase, the wise and pious may plant a tree or at the very least pay attention to nature in all its glory instead of taking it for granted.

St. Valentine’s Day is quite possibly the most evil day ever conceptualized. No other day is so insidiously evil, drawing in and corrupting so many people. Hell’s minions will leave no stone unturned in an effort to tantalize the helpless souls caught in the glamour of the day. For those who are already corrupted though, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to lure others into the abyss. Buy some chocolates for someone, urging them to gorge themselves on the delightfully sinful taste. Count the number of Valentine’s you get to see if you are being appreciated appropriately by the people in your life. If you find yourself without a date, revel in your singleness – watch porn, eat massive amounts of ice cream, dress up in your sexiest clothes and cruise the bars trying to turn the heads of the people who are supposed to be on dates. For the sinful, Valentine’s Day can be a day of intense revelry!

The Art of Worldly Wisdom: The First Maxim

Since this blog takes its name and tagline from the works of Baltasar Gracian, I thought I could also utilize this space as sort of a virtual discussion and meditation on his work, The Art of Worldly Wisdom.  I do prefer the direct translation of the title, though: A Manual of the Art of Discretion. For any who wish to follow along, there is a free translated version at, though I might rely upon my more modern Christopher Maurer’s  translation  for greater insight.  Footnotes, what delightful things.

I will only use direct copies from the free version though so I don’t stumble across any copyright violations.   Since Baltasar wrote 300 maxims in his book, there may be times I combine several into one write up for my own general convenience and sometimes the concepts are very straight forward and lengthy meditation on them is unnecessary.


Everything is at its Acme; especially the art of making one’s way in the world. There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.

The Seven Sages are a bit of mystery in this.  At first I was eager to find the seven great minds of Greece.  It appears to be a bit of Greek rhetoric, though to refer to an archetype of men of wisdom.  Socrates once listed seven men, but it was done in a way that it was hard to take seriously.  It seems to me (and I’m fully willing to admit my wrongness in this regard) that it is very likely that the ‘seven sages’ was just a construct of perfect wisdom so people could say “not even the Seven Sages could solve this Sodoku puzzle”.

I believe this first maxim is Baltasar’s warning to the reader that the path to becoming a wise moral person is a difficult one. At one point in history (and don’t ask me to detail which point) it was good enough to have depth of knowledge in only one field to be considered a sage. As the world became more complex, a person needed mastery of several forms of knowledge. Consider life before the computer and life after the computer. A person may be a brilliant salesperson but if the person is unable to work the computer to communicate with client and staff, the core skill of being able to sell becomes meaningless. Becoming a True Person, a person who seeks moral perfection, is a difficult task and not one that can be pursued lightly.

Armed with this warning, this first maxim, the reader is prepared to accept the next 299 lessons Baltasar is going to present.  The reading is simple, the understanding and knowledge is the hard part.

The Third Diaspora

The concept behind this short piece of fiction started when a friend wrote a short piece of fiction about a guy who was working at a particle collider and dealing with all sorts of bizarreness.  It was inspirational and I wanted to piece together an anthology of similar stories… common people in crazy circumstances.  Even amazing historical events has the people that don’t see the amazement, but see the drudgery of a day to day job.

Originally published around October 2008 in Livejournal

“Object number two-three-three dash seven-nine-nine-three is making a pass over Libreville-Gabon launch path in two minutes,” Nick rambled off into the headset mic as he watched the screen in front of him.  It was the thirty-seventh announcement he had to make in his first hour of work.  Paul, his co-worker came up behind him slurping his coffee.

“Two-thirty-three, seven-ninety-nine- three… what is that again?” Paul asked between slurps of coffee.

That annoyed Nick.  Not the slurping.  The running together of the identification numbers.

“Hammer,” Nick grunted.

“Oh right, one of the old shuttle missions.”

Nick selected the object on the screen and the screen zoomed in.  The hammer appeared in space, rotating end over end slowly, as if it were one of those gruesome holoshows where the killing blow is shown in slow motion to maximize the suspense.  There was no suspense here.  The hammer had been orbiting Earth for nearly a century and a half.

Nick dismissed the zoomed image from the screen and noted another dot that was drifting into one of the African launch paths.  “Object number seven-one-four dash zero-five-zero-two has altered orbit seventeen degrees and is crossing Mombassa-Kenya launch path in thirty seconds.”

Paul chuckled, “Thirty seconds?  You cut that one close.”

Nick grunted, “It must have been deflected by something.  I don’t recall it ever coming through the African launch paths before.”  Nick selected it and zoomed in.  There wasn’t anything obvious on the screen.  He zoomed in further.  A tiny screw floated in space before him, spinning rapidly as if it did bounce off something.

“Damn.  Good thing Africa hasn’t launched any ships for six months.  That could have been disasterous,” Paul said with a shake of his head.

Nick grimaced.  “Shouldn’t you be watching your screen?”

“Australia Watch?  How many people are left in Australia… five hundred?  A thousand tops.  I haven’t had a launch in over two years.  Those who are left want to be down there.  Not like those guys over at Europe Watch.”  Paul jerked his thumb towards a much more active part of the control room.  Europe Watch was composed of ten DTCs – debris traffic controllers – monitoring the London-UK, Paris-France, Frankfurt-Germany, Rome-Italy, Madrid-Spain, and Balkins-1 and 2 launch paths.  They had an average of eight launches a day – most unscheduled and unannounced.   Most of them were small family shuttles, bouncing up to orbit to rendezvous with one of the carrier ships heading out to the Terraformed Worlds.

Nick tapped a few buttons and pulled up a map of the Earth.  He hoped by not talking Paul would get the hint and wander back to his station.  Paul never took the hints.  He instead offered a running commentary on the data Nick was looking at.

“Wow, 108 degrees in Toronto.  Glad we are here on a platform with environmental controls.  Man can you imagine what it is like down there?”

“No,” Nick grunted, dismissing the display.

“Yeah, neither can I.  But I bet it is miserable.”

“Yeah, why else is everyone making a beeline for the Terraformed Worlds?  There’s nothing left down there.  It is all used up.”

From across the room one of the DCTs began shouting.  “Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight! Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight!”  The room erupted in chaos.  Stations were abandoned as everyone crowded around shouter.

Nick pressed in close staring at the screen.  “Zoom in! Zoom in!” Nick commanded the DCT at the controls.

The image on the screen expanded.  Object Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight appeared in view.  Floating gracefully through the blackness of space, a magazine slowly spun.  The cover had torn away but the pages inside sometimes spun into perfect view displaying images of scantily clad women in very seductive poses.

The crowd of men whooped and high fived each other as the DCT at the control took screen grabs of Three-Three-Four dash Seven-Eight-Eight-Eight to add to the growing stash.  As the magazine drifted out of the launch path, Nick turned to go back to his station, smiling at Paul.  “God damn, this is a good day!”

Cooking Bambi

Maybe it was Bambi’s dad.  I don’t know.  I can’t say.  I wasn’t there when the animal was shot.  This is what I know, a  good friend’s boyfriend brought fresh venison (fresh as in killed in December, not freshly butchered) down from the Upper Peninsula.  Wait, I read some statistic somewhere that Americans are clueless on geography.  Let me show you…

For the record, I’m in Chicago.  No, I’m not going to show you Chicago on the map.

Given the opportunity to cook the venison for my friends was an honor.  I had never cooked venison before.  It was something I had to research and read up on.  There are remarkably few sources for information on venison that I would consider trustworthy.  I couldn’t even go to my ultimate crutch, Alton Brown, for assistance, since he has never done a venison episode.

Armed with a plausible recipe, and some information from the USDA on proper cooking temperatures (I am a stickler when I am in unfamiliar territory) I set to the task of turning the tenderloin into something tasty.

I decided to make a whole four course meal to celebrate the honor of cooking a huge slab of meat.

jimbeamblackandhotciderThe first course was a simple sea scallop wrapped in bacon, seared and broiled with teriyaki sauce.  This was served along with the evening’s signature cocktail, Jim Beam Black bourbon and hot apple cider.   It was just a nibble, a bit to whet the appetite.  I was nervous ascallopsbout these because I was working with an oven hotter than I am use to as I was cooking the venison at a recommended 500 degrees that would raise the internal temp to 165 within the requisite hour.  I was also nervous because my normal move when cooking for people is to do volume and just having a scallop per person seemed a bit meager.  I followed it up quickly with the next course.

wilted-spinach-salad I made a wilted spinach salad which is one of my favorite salads.  Essentially fry up a mess of bacon, take the grease, stir in a bunch of mustard, a bit of sugar, vinegar, and a little extra oil, and whisk the hot liquid into a nice dressing to pour over spinach and green onion.  Crumble the bacon on top with some hard boiled egg and mandarin oranges and you have yourself a bacony salad.

The venison with asparagus and roasted potatoes came next.  I failed to get a picture of the plating, but one of my guests took  a shot and I will hopefully get a copy to put in here.  But I do have some pictures of the venison after I seared it.


The final course was desert, a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  The cake was supposed to be molten chocolate cake but I forgot to hit the button on the timer to start it and let it over cook a bit… so no melty chocolate goodness from the cake.


All the recipes I used for this meal will follow in a future post.  None of this was overly difficult.  The hardest part was coordinating the timing of everything and planning a menu that really wasn’t just a huge slab of meat on the plate with mashed potatoes which is what the standard ‘cook’ in me would want to do with any hunk of protein.

I really pushed myself on many levels here.  Even on the clean up.  All the dishes are done.  Nothing is “soaking” in the sink.

Quick Fix: Chicken Pot Pie

Originally posted  March 12, 2008

As a single man in the city, I sometimes struggle with the concept of eating well.  Sometimes eating well to me is not eating the entire bag of tortilla chips.  I was discussing the process of making dinner with a coworker and he talked about making chicken pot pie by opening the box and putting it in the oven.   This seemed fundamentally wrong to me, though I am just as guilty on relying upon frozen dinners for sustenance.  I decided to attempt to create a chicken pot pie.

homemade chicken pot pie
homemade chicken pot pie

The result was an unqualified success, and the process was so simple that I felt a compulsion to share.

Here is the basic recipe:

1/2 chicken breast (roughly 1/4 pound of chicken)
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cup vegetable broth (I only buy vegetable broth in case I  have to cook for a vegetarian, chicken broth obviously would work as well)
2 tbsp of flour
1/4 cup of water
1 pie crust

Add the chicken, vegetables, and broth to a pot and bring it to a boil.  Mix the flour and water together to form a nice slurry and drizzle into the boiling broth.  Stir thoroughly and reduce the heat so it goes to a simmer.  Flour needs to cook for awhile to eliminate the cereal taste, but this is just the first cooking step.  The next step is to transfer the ‘filling’ into an oven-safe bowl and lay pie crust on top.  Pop the bowl on a cookie sheet and place in a 400 degree oven for roughly fifteen minutes or until the crust is all browned.  I pulled mine out just a bit too soon and missed out on having a nice golden crust.  If I would have brushed it with butter, I could have gotten that delicious golden look.  I was content with this result, though.

Now you might notice that this isn’t a true ‘pie’ since there is no bottom crust.  Nothing is stopping you from laying down a bottom crust in the bowl, baking that while cooking the filling and then finishing it off as I described above.  I just happen to dislike the sogginess of the bottom of pot pies so avoid it completely.

For the pie crust I used the stuff you can find in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, usually near the biscuits in a tube.  Its cheap, you get two in a box, and it serves the purpose without having to take the pains of actually making pie crust.  Or, if you like your crust more flaky, track down some puff pastry to place on top of the filling or some of those biscuits in a tube might serve as a tasty topper to this meal.

Some words of caution… the gravy is HOT when it comes out of the oven.  I had to let this cool for a good five minutes before I could attempt to eat it.

Map Theory

Originally published Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Maps are windows to the past, though many hold a map and pretend they see the future. “Here is where I will go,” they say pointing to a location on a map. That location represents their future to them, but it is actually the past. If I hold a map created in ancient Greece that depicted the streets and shops in Troy, I could point to a location and say, “I’m going there,” but it is impossible. I am pointing to a location that existed in the past, that does not exist today, nor will it exist tomorrow. Hold a street map of New York City, created in 1999, and locate the World Trade Center. Plan your route from any other location in New York to the World Trade Center. Your route is meaningless as you are attempting to travel into the past, into a time when the World Trade Center existed. Sure, you can occupy the exact same coordinates of the World Trade Center as the map indicates, but you will not be at the World Trade Center.

Even if you rely upon real time satellite imagery to take a picture of a city, the picture is of the past, at least is the past by the time you see it. It may only be a few seconds into the past, but it is only an indicator of how the place will be in the future.

Do not trust maps to plan your future. All we know for certain is we are here, right here, at this moment, and this place is as we see it. We can make predictions regarding how it will be in the very near future, but have no way of knowing how it will be in the far future.

“Don’t worry, I have a map.”

Maps, like plans, are crutches. At some point they are almost as valuable as folklore as a way to navigate your future. An explorer has gone to and returned from a remote location, created a detailed map of his journey. He hands you the map and say, “You too can make this journey.” No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to replicate the explorer’s journey. The terrain shifts over time. What has been marked on the map as a creek is now a raging dangerous river. A clearly indicated path on the map has become overgrown with underbrush. Safe drinking water has been become tainted, and a cave used for safe lodging has been taken over by a large bear.

We can’t help but use voices from the past to help guide our way into the future, but we must be fully aware, the past is the past and the future is unwritten, unexplored. Our journey to the future is a singular one. We cannot follow another person’s footsteps exact enough to duplicate his successes and failures. If someone tells you he has the map to success, you know that the map is faulty because it only represents how success was accomplished in the past, not how it can be accomplished now or in the future.